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Plants are worth the price, including entrance fees to public gardens.

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December 7, 2018

There’s a squabble going on in my hometown of Fort Worth regarding the city-owned public garden. It seems some people don’t want to pay an entrance fee. This fall, the city council agreed to levy a fee for visitors to the Fort Worth Botanic Garden to help fund the overwhelming amount of repairs needed.

When the news broke that FWBG would charge for the entire complex (previously, visitors to only the Japanese Garden and the Rain Forest Conservatory paid an admission fee) complainers came out of the woodwork. People gasped, raised their fists, furrowed their brows, spoke against it at the city council meeting. But this 84-year-old gem needs $17 million in improvements and is facing a $1.2 million annual budget shortfall. Like I said before, this is a city-owned facility and, based on the laundry list of improvements needed, the city has obviously not made the garden a priority. Most of the repair and maintenance recommendations aren’t “nice-to-haves,” they’re “must-haves,” according Sal Espino, chair of the FWBG Strategic Planning Task Force. He told the garden’s chair and park board members, “… failure to take decisive actions to implement new revenue sources and a more strategic approach to managing the Garden will jeopardize the very existence of the Garden for future generations.”

FWBG director Bob Byers told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, “We can’t look the other way like we have for the last 20 years. If we do that, we won’t have the garden.”

The new admission fees, which are slated to begin next summer, are $12 for adults, $6 for children ages 6-15 and $10 for seniors. According to the Star-Telegram, a last-minute amendment directed staff to reassess those fees before they’re implemented July 19, 2019.

Critics of the plan say the cost is too high and it excludes people from being able to visit the garden. But FWBG has provided ways for some to visit for free or at a reduced cost.

Our large neighbor to the east is home to the Dallas Arboretum. It’s an incredible public garden that hosts more than 1 million visitors each year. Besides the remarkable beauty of the space, it also hosts sold-out public events throughout the year. The arboretum charges $15 for adults, $12 for seniors and $10 for children ages 2-12. 1 million people pay those fees. There’s no crumbling infrastructure and no budget deficit, just a colorful oasis in the midst of a bustling city.

Fort Worth could and should have a similar experience for our residents and tourists. Fort Worth charges an admission fee for the Fort Worth Zoo and the Fort Worth Nature Center & Refuge.

I’ll gladly pay the entrance fee several times a year to meander through the rose garden, to look up in awe at the mature oaks, to meditate in the perennial garden.

As an industry, we must continue to educate the public about why plants and greenspaces are vital to our physical and mental health, and how there’s immense value in our public gardens.

krodda@gie.net