City’s central park seen as home for botanical garden
By Brian Wheeler
Saturday, October 22, 2011
Woodland walks. Wildflower meadows. Waterfalls and native plants. Wetland gardens with raised paths. A winter sledding hill. Convenient access to the heart of downtown Charlottesville.
New design concepts for a proposed botanical garden made their debut at a gathering Friday evening. The
McIntire Botanical Garden
will be one of several projects competing for consideration in the city’s latest McIntire Park planning effort.
“We are envisioning this beautiful, free-flowing, open area in the center of the city,” said Helen Flamini, president of the McIntire Botanical Garden. “It will act as a hub … and people will be able to come into this park from every direction.”
Flamini said trails would access the park from along the new
Meadow Creek Parkway
, from Melbourne Road and from a new pedestrian bridge over the railroad tracks connecting it to the western side of McIntire Park.
“We came to Charlottesville and we thought of its character as being very human, and [the botanical garden] would bring this back in a way we are starting to lose,” said Kat Draego, a resident of Albemarle County and self-described “Charlottesville girl” after she reviewed the garden plans.
“We are getting away from that small city that was the ‘best place to live,’ into a really raggedy, urban, dirty place,” said Draego. “This says, ‘Let’s be for people.’”
The botanical garden would be located on McIntire Park’s eastern side, comprising 75 acres between the railroad tracks and the future parkway. It is currently home to the McIntire golf course, a wading pool and the
Dogwood Vietnam Memorial
In the proposal, the golf course would be no more. The wading pool would stay put. And the
would stay in the same area with greater access from trails.
“We have athletics on both sides of the park today, and in fact we don’t really have a park at the park,” said board member Janet Miller. “Our vision is to keep our athletics on the west side of the park, but take the east side and open it to everybody and make a wonderful park there, landscaping it as a botanical garden.”
“The point of the botanical garden would be to feature our Piedmont landscape,” Miller added. “There are very few botanical gardens that actually deal with the Piedmont flora, so it would be really unique to Charlottesville, demonstrating what we have here in our area.”
The newest design concept for the garden was created by local landscape architect Kennon Williams. Williams was the project manager for the Dell at the University of Virginia, a project of Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects. That project daylighted a stream, restored native plants and created an attractive public space adjacent to the university’s Curry School of Education.
“The Dell, once the transformation happened, has become a beloved space for the students,” said Williams. “This has the same kind of potential, but writ-large … It could bloom and be a real draw in the center of the city.”
“The board had a lot of interesting ideas … and I tried to incorporate those and mold those with the shape of the land,” Williams said. “We definitely want to see it not only as a botanical garden, but as a park so that people will feel free to go there and enjoy.”
Beyond the obvious back-to-nature amenities, board members also emphasized the botanical garden would provide economic benefits for the community.
“Our vision is tourists will come to the Downtown Mall, as they have always done, hop on board a Charlottesville free trolley at the transit center, and be dropped off right at the park,” Flamini said.
Flamini believes the park will be another magnet for overnight stays by tourists.
“It’s good for the economy, which increases the tax base,” Flamini said. “Tourism does represent a huge economic benefit for the city.”
The project does not include a major building nor will it require a lot of earth moving. However, it will still require financial support, and organizers said Friday that they envision a public-private partnership as a key ingredient in planning and implementation.
A 2004 master plan for McIntire Park, which recommended the phasing out of the golf course, has been idle during the continuing debate and lawsuits over the parkway. Now, with dirt moving on the city’s portion of the road, a new master planning process is under way.
“The Parks and Recreation Department has an excellent process,” said board member
. “Can we move through that, through the Planning Commission, through City Council, all the way to implementation? It should progress at an appropriate pace, but we should actually accomplish what we plan.”
Seaman said the first step was to have the eastern part of the park designated for passive recreation in the master planning process.
“All along the way, we will be engaged with the public bodies and the citizens,” Seaman added. “If the land is designated for this use, we can set about creating an agreement [with the city] and raising money.”
The next opportunity for public input is a master planning session from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Monday at the Martin Luther King Jr. Performing Arts Center. The city will receive input from residents and organizations with specific proposals for the future of the eastern part of McIntire Park.