Rachel Woods


“It’s really great that in this urban setting, this 164-acre park is here for people to escape the urban life and have a little time in nature.”

Rachel Woods, North Carolina Museum of Art Curator of Horticulture and Sustainability

by Mimi Montgomery

photograph by Travis Long

Behind the wheel of a golf cart, Rachel Woods zips through the 164-acre grounds of the North Carolina Museum of Art. The museum’s curator of horticulture and sustainability points out 200-year-old oak trees, more than 300 newly planted native trees, and Piedmont prairie grasses that dot the landscape. She knows each plant she passes and its part in the park’s ecosystem – it is her job, after all.

The NCMA created Woods’ position early this year to keep the museum’s impressive acreage sustainable and to revert it to the best condition possible, even as the museum undergoes a substantial overhaul and expansion of the park. It’s a big job. Woods is managing it by “incorporating smart, green practices that ensure we’re not doing more harm to our landscape than good.”

The expanded park, which opens next month, will feature a new elliptical garden and newly planted trees, native prairie grasses, and perennial beds, all chosen to provide habitats for birds, insects, and amphibians, and to contribute to the surrounding ecosystem. An eco-workhorse of a parking area that’s as pretty as it is environmentally sound is a centerpiece. Filled with trees and lined with wetland sedges, the parking area is designed to absorb water runoff and send it along to be percolated and cleaned before it goes back into the park’s stream system.

The streams themselves will be cleaned, and new paths are planned along the banks. There are grants in the works for a tactile garden, too, where visitors will be able to experience nature hands-on and take classes. Woods says she wants the NCMA grounds to be interactive and focused on the art of natural beauty – not a run-of-the-mill, clustered sculpture garden.

“That really is the goal of the park … changing what people think of as a museum experience, and challenging that concept that a museum has to be in a building,” she says. “This all can be a part of that museum-art experience (while enjoying) nature simultaneously.” 

2110 Blue Ridge Road; ncartmuseum.org