As trees have been torn down to make way for the various colorful flowers planted and structures erected, Wellfield Botanic Gardens has transformed from a free park to a paid entry botanic garden.
“It’s a place to work and learn,” said Eric Amt, director of the gardens. “We have been very happy with the turnout.”
However, with a charge of $5 per person older than 12, many people in Elkhart have been taking their nature strolls elsewhere since May 1.
“I love this park and I hate that your have to pay to come here now,” said Barbara Anglemyer, a garden-goer. “It breaks my heart. It’s so sad that something so beautiful is out of reach for so many people.”
Those looking to bring their dog for a walk might especially see the gardens as out of reach. Dogs and their owners are required to have a membership to get past the gates. Adults looking to become a member have options ranging from the $35 individual membership to the $1,000 Perennial Partner membership, while the annual fee for dogs is $20. Those ages 13 to 21 can purchase a $20 student membership, and people looking to enjoy the gardens at whatever price they deem acceptable may do so on donation Tuesdays. The gardens are free to children 12 and younger.
“We feel that right now $5 is reasonable and cheaper than others in the area,” said Amt. “It’s hard to take away free, but people who truly understand know the importance of art in the community.”
And yet professional photographers looking to encourage art in the community face a $50 a day charge if they wish to snap some shots.
“Good, professional photographers understand,” said Amt.
“I think it’s crap,” said Tosha Koons of Koons Photography. “It’s wrong. It’s a way for these people to get more money out of us. The economy is struggling. I don’t even charge $50 an hour. If I have to fork over all this money to take photos, I end up losing money. I will never be able to do a photo shoot there.”
Tia Guffey, an independent photographer who has taken photos at Wellfield, agrees.
“I feel like the charges that are there for us photographers and everyone else are pushing us away,” Guffey said. “When I first started taking my clients to Wellfield, 98 percent of them didn’t even know about that place. We photographers show our clients places they don’t even know about and they take their families and friends back to go on a walk or have a picnic. We show people the beauty of these parks.”
Until January 2007, when the Elkhart Rotary began this project, people had experienced a completely different kind of beauty. Trees, ivy and other greenery were left to grow naturally, until a large number of trees were torn down to begin making way for the flowers and sculptures currently on display. The flowers, mainly annuals that will die as fall makes its way to Elkhart, line newly formed paths and clearings. A glimpse of old Wellfield can still be spotted toward the back of the park, but only until it is cleared sometime in the coming months.
“I think the new park is great, but I miss the old park and the trees,” said Carl Hall III, who has visited the gardens since completion of the entrance shelter. “I really wish the trees were still there. The new building and what they’ve done inside looks nice, but I don’t think it was worth the cost.”
Cost of another type? New restrictions. Those interested in riding their bikes, skates or skateboards are now asked to do so elsewhere, according to the Wellfield Botanic Gardens Visitor Guidelines. Visitors are also asked not to stray from the path or touch anything unless it is noted as acceptable, similar to a museum.
Volunteers are working on an Adventure Path, Children’s Garden, Sensory Garden, Water Celebration Garden with glass gazebo and bridges that will connect Wellfield to the land that has been purchased next to it.
The City of Elkhart Environmental Center will host EnviroFest with 88.1 WVPE from 5:30 to 9 p.m. Friday, July 12, at the Wellfield Botanic Gardens, 1011 N. Main St. The New Electric Band will take the stage from 5:30 to 9 p.m. There will be live animal shows with The Nature Steward at 6 and 8 p.m. in the Kids Activity Area. Demonstrations will include woodworking, live fish, building a raised bed garden, natural dye and more. Exhibitor booths will feature renewable energy, local food, recycled art, environmental organizations, eco-friendly vendors and more. Locally produced food, beer and wine will be available from food vendors. The event will also feature a raffle and silent auction including items from local business and organizations. Admission is $5 for adults, free for children.
Part of the IU Health Goshen Hospital Event Series, EnviroFest 2013 is sponsored by HIMCO Waste Away, Elkhart General Hospital Beacon Health System, NIPSCO, AEP Indiana Michigan Power, Habitat for Humanity ReStore of Elkhart County, Home Energy LLC, Nationwide Insurance Kenneth R. Popovich agency and Lochmandy Motors.