2013 Updates to the Original Master Plan
The Botanical Garden of the Ozarks is one of only 117 Botanical Gardens in the country and one of two in Arkansas. The mission of the Botanical Garden of the Ozarks is showcasing the natural beauty of the Ozarks, educating today for a sustainable future, and providing a venue for the community to enjoy entertainment and outdoor recreation.
The Botanical Garden is a 501(c) 3 not-for-profit organization. An 18-member volunteer board and staff of eight professionals manage it. The operations of the Garden are wholly supported privately by admissions, sponsorships, venue rentals, memberships, gift shop sales and donations.
The Botanical Garden is located on approximately 98 acres of land leased from the City of Fayetteville. The City and the BGO entered into the lease agreement in September of 1997. As required by the lease, the original Master Plan for the BGO was approved by the City Council in 2001. Paragraph 6.0 of that lease states that “the BGSO shall exercise sole operational and supervisory authority over all grounds, buildings and personnel of the Garden…the BGSO, at its expense, will be responsible for all maintenance and security associated with the operation of the Botanical Garden.” From the beginning, the BGO board has demonstrated its commitment to being good stewards of the property and developing it as a regional amenity and economic driver.
The BGO Board of Directors believes the time has come for the Botanical Garden to begin to expand to fulfill its commitment to the people of the region. The Education Center is the first new structure to be planned and developed by the BGO Board and Staff. However, before this structure can even be planned, the Master Plan must be updated, requiring approval per the lease with the City. An updated master plan is required because of three significant changes to the area:
- The City did not build the Lake Fayetteville Trail extension in the location originally indicated on the BGO Master Plan;
- passage of the City’s Streamside Ordinance required the Garden to change its plans and relocate parking lots, an amphitheater, and the Education Center; and
- the impact of the widening of Hwy 265 will alter access to the Garden.
For nine months, the BGO Plans and Properties Committee and Board studied ideas for updating the Master Plan. The plan that the Board adopted offers the best use of the land available within what the lease refers to as the Garden’s fee area. BGO’s lease with the City classifies the area leased as either “fee area or non-fee area”
The parking lots proposed in the updated master plan are outside the Garden’s “fee area” and would be available to the public for their use whether visiting the Garden, enjoying nature at Lake Fayetteville, or making use of the Lake Fayetteville Trail.
A number of dirt trails run through the Garden’s non-fee lease area. Paragraph 7.0 of the lease says, “The BGSO specifically acknowledges the right of the public to access trails in the non-fee area without charge.” The Garden is supportive of this and knows many people enjoy the opportunity to experience nature by biking or walking a trail near Lake Fayetteville. Paragraph 7.2 says, “any enhancements or construction of any trails by the City within the non-fee area will be maintained by the City of Fayetteville.” The City has worked with many groups to build and maintain trials throughout the “non-fee” lease area of the BGO.
Apparently, trail user groups were under the impression that the BGO wanted to close the dirt trails in the BGO lease area. That is not the case. This misconception likely arose when the BGO filed a grievance with the City (the proper process per the lease agreement) about the City’s failure to seek BGO approval or agreement before the building of trails. BGO is not against nature trails but does expect to be consulted and involved in the placement of the trails per the lease as stated in paragraph 7.1: “Construction of or enhancements to the primary public pedestrian and bicycle trails through the non-fee area to the west of the fee area . . . must be approved by both the City of Fayetteville and the BGSO.” BGO was not against trails, but was against the City acting in violation of our lease.
There is one dirt trail segment, approximately just over two-tenths of a mile in length, which is used by pedestrians and cyclists that runs through the Garden’s fee area. This trail actually extends into the meadow area of the BGO and would be where the BGO would build the new Education Center.
Although the BGO could close this trail in keeping with the terms of its lease and the grievance settlement, the BGO board, in the interest of being a good neighbor and in appreciation of how many enjoy the nature trail near the lake, has proposed two solutions: 1) One is to relocate the dirt trail in the fee area to the south of the hard surface Lake Fayetteville Trail; and 2) a second option is to move approximately 50 yards of the dirt trail away from the BGO meadow area into the wooded area. This would offer those using the trail a more exciting view of the lake and opportunity to be near nature. This option would allow the BGO to construct an Education Center in the meadow along with its planned gardens. (In addition, when the updated BGO Master Plan and lease are approved, the BGO would give back to the City the biggest portion of land—a non-fee area of 46 acres–under the lease agreement. The BGO would go from approximately 98 acres to about 42 acres.)
The Botanical Garden is an Economic Driver for Northwest Arkansas
As a tourist destination and event venue, The Botanical Garden of the Ozarks (BGO) is a substantial asset for the City of Fayetteville, the Parks and Recreation Department, and the surrounding region. The Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce estimated in 2010 this economic impact to be more than $3 million annually. Development of the property as proposed would only increase that positive economic impact in the coming years.
BGO continues to demonstrate its ability to fulfill the initial investments of the City of Fayetteville, the A&P Commission and the Arkansas State Legislature, as well as the significant financial support from individual and corporate donors.
BGO has invested an additional $4.5 million since 2007 in improvements and operating expenses to the bare field that it leased. It projects tens of millions of dollars in further enhancement over the coming years to develop the property and to meet the economic development and educational goals outlined at our founding. Annually more than 40,000 paying guests visit the Garden, and through the numerous educational programs and partnerships with school districts all over Northwest Arkansas, more than 10,000 children have the opportunity to experience the outdoors and engage in hands-on learning about science and nature. Another 19,000 attend concerts, classes, events, and weddings or receptions. Nearly 80,000 individuals visited the Garden in 2012.