story by Julie Bagley
Winter isn’t a prime growing season for the Botanical Garden of the Ozarks but its draw during December will stir the child inside anyone.
Every Saturday and Sunday through Dec. 16, the garden is transformed to a winter wonderland complete with model trains; barrel trains to ride and Santa Claus makes an appearance to listen to those last-minute wishes.
More than 35 volunteers help to decorate and facilitate the Gardenland for three weekends. This is the third year for the winter feature and it has evolved every year. Last year, Gardenland was available every day and Executive Director Ron Cox said it was too much for the small army of volunteers and sponsors.
“It taxed our volunteer crew so decided to cut it down this year and it’s been wonderful,” said Cox.
More than 2,500 people will cross the Botanical Garden gates to glimpse into a southern North Pole. With a cost of $4 for adults and $2 for children it is well worth the expense.
“The fee covers expenses. We are wanting to create awareness for the garden and something available for the public where families can come and enjoy,” said Cox.
The garden can skimp on admission because there was a significant increase in membership compared to last year. Since opening in 2007, it receives no city support and revenue is based on gate receipts, grants, donations and leasing the gardens for special events.
There are more than 2,000 donors that contribute to the garden every month. Most recently, the Tyson family donated 13 bronzed statues of children located throughout the grounds. Other big-name sponsors include the Walton family, Totemeier family and the Fayetteville A&P. To add to that, there have been more than 200,000 visitors, wedding guests, concert-goers and students to the garden. Attendance has increased by nearly 18% in 2012 and Cox expects it to grow next year.
For the fourth year, it was named as the best place to get married in Northwest Arkansas. During 2012, 44 weddings were booked.
“Those are outdoor weddings and there are only so many weeks of the year where it’s not snowing, raining or cold so 44 is a good number,” said Cox.For 2013, Cox said every weekend in March is already booked for weddings. That could be considered a leap of faith and not those of nuptials. There’s been snow on the ground in Arkansas in March. Including the wedding business, the Fayetteville Chamber Economic Develop coordinator estimates the garden has had a $3.2 million annual economic impact on Northwest Arkansas.
While Gardenland is a winter event to draw interest, the last weekend of the event (Dec. 15-16) will include a 5k run with a special guest. Olympian Jeff Galloway will be on-hand to kick-off the Jingle Jog at the Botanical Garden. He was a member of the 1972 U.S. Olympic Team in the 10,000 meters. He’s written several books on training and writes a column for Runner’s World.