Around 120 residents attended a public input session on Wednesday to hear about plans for an expansion of the Botanical Garden of the Ozarks.
Board president Walt Eilers gave a brief presentation of a proposed update to the master plan for the city-owned land the garden leases near Lake Fayetteville off Crossover Road.
Eilers said the $60 million expansion would include a nature education area, visitor center, event pavilion, community market, arboretum and amphitheater on the undeveloped areas of the garden’s campus.
Several residents said they were concerned about the garden’s plan to relocate a portion of a soft-surface trail which runs across the garden’s leasehold.
The garden board, which has leased the property from the city since 1997, maintains that relocating the trail is necessary to make way for the planned expansion. As leaseholders on the property, Eilers said, they also feel it is within their rights.
It’s unclear when the trail was built to its current standards. Trail users said Wednesday the trail pre-dates the garden by decades. Eilers said he’s not sure when the trail was first built, but believes it has been improved upon greatly in the last few years without the knowledge or consent of the garden board.
Steve Schneider, vice president of Ozark Off Road Cyclists, a volunteer organization that helps build and maintain the trail, said he didn’t think the proposed re-route is feasible.
“This is a sensitive wetland area, and it’s not going to work,” Schnieder said. “The only way it could work is with huge amounts of money to put in boardwalks and bridges.”
Eilers told the audience that the proposed trail route illustrated on maps displayed at the meeting was only a suggestion, and has not yet been studied in detail.
Others in attendance Wednesday expressed additional concerns, including worries about fencing off portions of the land for the gardens, and concerns about the effects the expansion could have on wildlife along the lakeshore.
The fences, at least in some capacity, Eilers said, are necessary. “We’re trying to showcase some unique plants,” he said. “Without a fence, these gardens are going to look like a buffet for deer. We can’t showcase them very well if they end up in a deer’s mouth.”
Steve Meldrum, chair of the City Council’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, said he’d like to see more study on the soft trail route before making an official recommendation on the garden’s proposal.
“I don’t know that the board has enough professional input to make a decision on where we’d relocate this trail at this point,” Meldrum said.
Eilers said on Thursday he’d like more time as well.
“I’ve asked Ron Troutman, who has built a lot of the trails around here, to have a look at it,” he said. “We’re also going to talk to Progressive Trail Design to see if they can help us come up with an alternate route that will work.”
The Parks and Recreation Advisory Board was set to revisit the proposal at their next monthly meeting in May, however, Eilers said he requested that the issue be tabled until June.