*Updates at Bottom
In the spring of 2013, the Botanical Garden of the Ozarks released a master plan showing the elimination of a section of the dirt trail through the property they lease from the city. As part of the plan to expand the gardens, they hope to build a fence around the property and make amendments to their lease permitting the closure/rerouting of the trail. There was a meeting in April to take public comment on the plans. I didn't attend (or know about it), but would love to hear any information people have on the outcomes of that meeting.
As should be obvious looking at my blog and books, I love trails. I love the dirt trail around the lake. I also am a big fan of botanical gardens and would love to see the tiny BGO improved and expanded. I don't see a reason that these two attractions can't work together. In fact, I'd think there would be some synergy between the two with the trail bringing more people into the gardens than would otherwise come and with visitors to the gardens being able to take longer walks into more natural/native ecosystem settings.
In my opinion, the best solution is to make the Botanical Gardens free, thus eliminating the need for most fencing. Many cities have free botanical gardens whose trails can be openly accessed. Other cities have hybrid designs where parts of the gardens are free, but certain areas cost money to visit. I realize the current structure and non-profit ownership may be different from gardens in other cities, however maybe it is time to change that or have the city and university fund the gardens in exchange for making it free to the public. BGO could still raise money through weddings, other events, donations, courses, and plant sales; even without charging admission. Lots of volunteer hours and money, both historically and recently, have been put into building and maintaining the trail around the lake. Large amounts of public funding helped create BGO and the public should be allowed free access to the gardens and the existing trails.
Examples of great, free, Botanical Gardens:
1. Compton Gardens right up the road in Bentonville. They are funded through donations and private events.
2. The Botanic Gardens in Seattle are free and open to the public. They are operated by the University of Washington. Trails through the park are used for a variety of purposes, including commuting.
3. Birmingham Botanical Gardens is also free and is "the most visited free attraction in Alabama". It is run through a partnership between a non-profit and the city and they raise money through events and donations.
4. Regional Parks Botanical Garden in Berkeley is on regional park land and run by a volunteer-based non-profit. Admission is free and trails through the garden connect to other trails in the area.. They raise money through events, classes, plant sales, and donations.
Please leave a comment if I've gotten something wrong here or if you have something to add. What are your favorite Botanical Gardens? How do they handle public access?
If you live in Central Arkansas, see my proposal for a botanical garden in Midtown.
Update 7/19/14 - BGO released their updated master plan. I haven't seen it but it apparently leaves all but 70 feet of the trail intact. http://www.nwaonline.com/news/2014/jul/15/botanical-garden-of-the-ozarks-presents/?news-arkansas-nwa
There appears to be an issue with that last 70' of trail which the BGO would like to move closer to the lake and further into a wetland area. Ozark Off Road Cyclists (OORC), the organization that constructed this trail and others around town using volunteer labor, says that they would not have the funds or ability to construct that section properly. As far as I know, neither the city or BGO has offered to pay for a boardwalk. Any input from BGO or OORC on this issue would be greatly appreciated.
Here is a map showing plans as they stand now. OORC has proposed moving the nature trail inland away from the wetland area. If implemented, this would impact BGO's fencing/fee plans.
UPDATE 8/7/2013 - I requested information 8 days ago from a city official and from the botanical garden. I recently got a reply from the city indicating that after the public meeting mentioned above, BGO went back to the drawing board with their proposed master plan and lease changes. They are expected to release a revised master plan this fall. If you care about the trails around Lake Fayetteville or would like to see a botanical garden more like the ones I've listed above, now is your chance to let your voice be heard. You can contact BGO here.
UPDATE 8/12/2013 - You can see a response from BGO below in the comments and an update on their website. I also heard from them via twitter that revised plans will be released in the fall.
Regarding the comment below, I think anyone who viewed the master plan would question the assertion that "There is no recommendation, nor has there ever been, that any of the Lake Fayetteville trails go away". The plan I saw showed no dirt trail inside the new fence and showed a proposed new dirt trail outside it. We may be playing with words a bit here, but to me (and probably to the people who got upset by the plans) that appears to be a recommendation to eliminate the existing trail and reroute it around the proposed expanded gardens to a less desirable location. The plan also showed that the new dirt trail would no longer be continuous and would put extra traffic on the paved trail right at the entrance to the gardens. Not shown on the master plan, is the Plan B discussed at: http://bgozarks.org/learn/future-plans/ which sounds much better. How that would work with the proposed fencing and fee area is not yet clear.
I worked at a non-profit for four years and dealt with variation in funding sources, but am interested in your opinions about the first part of the comment below. At this point, my opinions/recommendations have not changed. Free admission is in the public interest and would maximize visitation. With more people visiting and learning about the gardens, gift shop sales, demand for paid events, and donations would likely increase. Successful examples of this model exist and a few are discussed above.
My other posts on Lake Fayetteville.