Opinion » Commentaries

Botanical Garden won't be Disneyland

It will be a major attraction



Richard Schmidt’s commentary, “Beware the bedazzling plan,” (Sept. 10) seriously misconstrues the vision for the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden. Frankly, we were taken aback by his scathing attack, with its inaccuracies and tone. Make no mistake: The new garden will be a green-theme attraction, where people can learn about the environment, sustainability, and the human connection to nature and plants, while being educated, entertained, inspired, transformed, and motivated.

A one-of-a-kind attraction, the garden will showcase the ecosystems and water-conserving plants of the five Mediterranean climate regions. The San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden is a 150-acre site (not 3,500 acres). It will become a must-see destination for one million plus of the more than four-and-a-half million cars that already travel Highway 1 between the Monterey Bay Aquarium and the Hearst Castle each year.

Now celebrating its 20th anniversary, the garden has been a labor of love for thousands of volunteers. With more than 800 members, 256 active volunteers, three staff members, and a dynamic board, it has made huge progress planting two-acres, building a completely sustainable building, and teaching thousands of children about the plants, thereby raising a new generation of stewards.

The garden receives no public funding. We are financially self- sustaining and do not compete with other nonprofits in the county for limited philanthropic dollars. Everything we do has been accomplished through the generous donations of time and money by individuals. Consider what we will offer.

The garden’s mission is to:
Nurture a sense of wonder and curiosity about the natural world
• Inspire environmental preservation and stewardship
• Demonstrate accessibility and resource conservation using alternative, sustainable building techniques

Economic benefits will include:
• Projected annual visitation: more than 1 million
• Millions more dollars in sales tax revenue to cities and the county
• At least $11 million in transient occupancy taxes county-wide per year
• 600 new green jobs and Tourism-Industry Growth

Planned features—why this will not be Leaning Pine

Visitor Center
• Orientation Center
• Interactive Exhibit Gallery
• Orientation Film & Auditorium
• Gift Shop – featuring local and fair trade items

Mediterranean Signature Landscapes
(5 to 40 acres)
• Mediterranean Basin
• Cape Region of South Africa
• South and western Australia
• Central Chile
• California

Mediterranean Restaurant and Cafés
• 10,000 sq. ft. restaurant featuring California cuisine grown, caught, raised or bottled in SLO County
• Four Signature Landscape Cafés with regional food, music and art

• Capacity: 2,500
• Performance venue for artists who support or promote sustainable living and environmental stewardship

Chumash Village
• Constructed and staffed by local Chumash people
• Demonstrate Chumash dependence on area plants for shelter, food, goods

Children’s Attractions
• Children’s Gardens and field trips
• Children's Overnight Camp
• Garden Zip Lines
• Energy Exploration Park
• Butterfly House

Landscape Demonstration Gardens
• Sustainable Home Demonstration Gardens
• International Garden Design Displays – annual design competition
• California Native Cultivar Garden

Gardens of Exploration
• Ecology Garden
• Horticultural Therapy Garden
• Biology Garden
• Cultural Influence Garden

Mediterranean Interpretive Programs
• Botany
• History of Man and Plants
• Plant Adaptations and Evolution
• Cultural Influences of Plants
• Pharmaceutical Plants
• Mediterranean Agriculture

Garden Transportation
• Gondola (cable railway)
• Garden Tram
• Garden Paths & Hiking Trails

Propagation Center
• Greenhouses and Lathhouse
• Operations & Maintenance
• Seed and propagation bank for endangered and water conserving plants

Education and Research Center
• Dormitory for scientists to work on restoration of these endangered habitats worldwide
• Laboratory, Herbarium, Research Library, Offices, Classrooms. A wealth of plant identification videos, pictures and information stored on a central server and accessible on personal cell phones

There are no plans “to bust open the Valley of the Morros for commercial development.” Our 150 acres are surrounded by Cal Poly, El Chorro Regional Park National Guard and CMC: an in-fill project if there ever was one. Our goal is to fill motels around the county that now go empty mid-week.

The amphitheater will be available to such nonprofits as the SLO Symphony, Festival Mozaic, and story-telling, poetry, and Shakespeare festivals. It will be built to hold an audience of 2,500 and if demand increases, a maximum of 5,000.

The land is not “a habitat-rich and environmentally precious area”. The site is covered in invasive European grasses, which will be replaced with bio-diverse plantings. Buildings will be tucked into the landscape, paths will be made out of sustainable recycled materials, and the most energy-efficient people movers are gondolas.

Liz Scott-Graham heads development outreach for the SLO Botanical Garden. She invites anyone who is curious about the planned garden

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