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Garden Growth Plan Raises Concerns

The Botanical Garden of the Ozarks Master Plan 2028 includes 8 gardens, 3 parking lots and five structures.
Fayetteville -- The Botanical Garden of the Ozarks is looking to grow into a bigger attraction, but not everyone is excited about its new plan to do it.

Supporters and opponents showed up to Monday's Parks and Recreation Board meeting to discuss the "Master Plan 2028." The garden's master plan calls for a seven phase expansion over the next 15 years, including 8 gardens, 3 parking lots and five structures.

The Parks and Recreation Board recommended approval for a new lease and the plan, but not without a lot of debate.

A soft surface trail running around Lake Fayetteville will need to be moved closer to the shoreline, and several Fayetteville citizens are calling for environmental impact studies before the new lease is approved.

The city's solution is to build a boardwalk through the area, preserving the wetlands, and the path around the lake. Parks and Rec officials do not know how much the project will cost though.

"The burden of the price of moving the trail and putting a bridge and boardwalk is going to be very expensive," says Steve Schneider, the South Central Regional Director of the International Mountain Bicycling Association. "I think that the Botanical Garden Society should at least maybe pay for part of that, and not burden the taxpayers of Fayetteville with that whole bill, because it could be hundreds of thousands of dollars."

The garden attracted 84 thousand visitors last year, and its local economic impact is estimated at $3.2 million.

"It's already a real gem, but with expansion and growth it could be a real jewel for Northwest Arkansas," says BGO Executive Director Ron Cox. "If we expanded, added 2 more gardens, we had an education facility, we could be talking about 250,000 to 500,000 visitors to our garden and to Northwest Arkansas. I think the economic impact would then be in double digits."

The new lease and master plan must now be approved by the City Council.
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