Discovery Garden future unclear

HOLLIDAYSBURG – The founder of the Discovery Garden at American Legion Memorial Park is worried about its future, after a drop in interest from volunteers to care for the expansive garden.

Karen Claton, who founded the garden in memory of her late daughter Courtney, who died in 1997, said 20 to 24 people traditionally signed up every year to take four free classes in exchange for volunteering 18 hours at the park from May to October.

This year, however, the classes were canceled when too few volunteers signed up, according to Tom Ford, a horticulture educator with Penn State Extension, Cambria County, who teaches the courses.

Ford said he’s been involved with the garden and taught gardening courses for volunteers since 2001, training more than 200 people in 12 years.

“We have held this course every year without interruption,” he said. “The cancellation of the 2013 training program is a concern, because volunteers are so vital to the overall appearance and success of the garden.”

Some veteran gardeners take the course more than once, Claton said, because Ford always added something new to the program. But this year only eight people showed up, she said, and it wouldn’t have been fair to make Ford teach such a small class.

One thing Claton said she can always count on is school groups coming each spring to plant annuals in the garden, as a way to teach children about nature’s beauty and to respect the outdoors. Children who participate usually are protective of the garden, she said, and know not to run through it or pick the flowers.

Claton said the garden was established with the help of a $10,000 Ronald McDonald House Charities Grant. The Hollidaysburg Area Women’s Club recently received a $5,000 grant from the charity to help revive the play parks at Legion and Canal Basin.

Jamie Baser, women’s club member and Main Street manager, said the grant is earmarked for improvements to Kids Kingdom, which abuts part of the Discovery Garden.

The grant was part of an overall $25,000 fundraising goal between the club and Mayor Joseph Dodson’s own fundraising efforts, she said, which will be put toward supplies for both parks.

Baser said with Claton’s involvement as a fellow club member, the group might look into stepping up more to help with the garden.

Claton said roughly half a dozen members already participate, part of a group of 15 people who worked to help clean up the park last week.

Leslie Smith, women’s club member and assistant volunteer coordinator for the garden, said people might think the work is labor intensive, but working in groups, especially with people who love gardening, makes the effort a lot of fun.

“[The garden is] definitely a destination for the rest of the community to go and visit,” she said.

People use it for photography, she said, and some weddings have taken place there.

Smith said she hopes people can get the word out about the garden’s importance and that a lot of people show up for the annual plant sale May 18.

The funds benefit the garden as well as the Skills of Central PA Inc. Horticulture Therapy Program.

Claton said community support is what has kept the garden running for years.

Ford said he hopes the low course enrollment this year was an aberration because spring was delayed, and not a long-term problem.

“The Discovery Garden truly is a treasure and a living testament to the generosity and community spirit of our Blair County residents,” he said.

Mirror Staff Writer Kelly Cernetich is at 946-7520.