Botanic Gar­den prompts mus­ings about com­mu­nity, ad­mis­sion fees, sand­wiches

Star-Telegram (Sunday) - - Opinion - BY MICHAEL RYAN michael­[email protected] star-tele­gram.com

I thought I was just headed out to com­mune with na­ture. Or, like the su­per-shal­low guy in the film “Rox­anne” pro­foundly puts it, to “just be.”

“I al­ways take, like, a meat sand­wich with me when I go,” the movie’s ma­cho mo­ron adds, step­ping all over his brief Thoreau mo­ment.

Seek­ing a some­what higher level of con­scious­ness than a meat sand­wich, I took a book in­stead — lo­cal au­thor Tim Madi­gan’s “I’m Proud Of You” — to the Fort Worth Botanic Gar­den on an idyl­lic Satur­day af­ter­noon Nov. 24.

I did find the soli­tude I sought, on a bench near the rose gar­den. But as I re-read Tim’s ab­sorb­ing ac­count of his re­mark­able friend­ship with the man we all knew as Mr. Rogers, I couldn’t help but be drawn back to my sur­round­ings — the sculpted plants, the whit­tled walk­ways, the breeze through the trees.

But mostly the peo­ple. They were ev­ery­where. But oddly enough, it didn’t feel that way. With the throng nicely and nat­u­rally strung out on the Botanic Gar­den’s trails, it was hard to re­al­ize that you were among hun­dreds of oth­ers. They were quiet, cour­te­ous, and ad­mir­ing of the flora, even in its sea­sonal re­pose. They were strolling, then stop­ping here and there to frame each other within pic­tures of na­ture’s splen­dor. I hadn’t seen so much pos­ing since the last elec­tion.

While tak­ing my own pho­tos, I stum­bled upon a large 15th-birth­day quinceañera party in full dress, the hon­oree of which was as lu­mi­nous as any flower in spring. See­ing me steal a photo of them, they asked me to act as of­fi­cial pho­tog­ra­pher, which I was hon­ored to do.

In short, I ended up com­muning mostly, and mostly in si­lence, with my fel­low trav­el­ers.

It was a mi­nor epiphany, one I re­al­ize isn’t ex­actly ground­break­ing but which I think is both pro­found and timely: The Botanic Gar­den, and in­sti­tu­tions like it, are much more than al­lur­ing places. They’re events — some or­ga­nized, most of them not, but all of which we share with those around us, friend and stranger alike. It is the essence of com­mu­nity, to com­mune with each other.

The ex­pe­ri­ence helped me more fully un­der­stand the angst of many at the thought of charg­ing ad­mis­sion to the en­tire Botanic Gar­den, and not just for its spe­cial Ja­panese Gar­den, for the first time since its open­ing in 1934. I know now that this is one pre­cious place — one spe­cial event that hap­pens over and over, one wideeyed new­comer at a time.

All the same, I’m con­vinced there’s no choice but to charge ad­mis­sion to those able to pay. There’s a $1.2 mil­lion hole in the gar­den bud­get an­nu­ally, and as much as $17 mil­lion in re­pairs and main­te­nance await­ing the funds.

But I’m equally cer­tain Botanic Gar­den and city lead­ers have heard the con­cerns and are act­ing on them. A task force of civic lead­ers and concerned cit­i­zens dug deep over the course of sev­eral years to find nu­mer­ous ways to ame­lio­rate the com­ing fees of $12 for adults, $10 for se­niors and $6 for ages 6-15.

Some 4,500 free passes will be distributed to low­in­come vis­i­tors through lo­cal non­prof­its, while the Fort Worth Pub­lic Li­brary will have a lim­ited num­ber of passes for check­out. Third-grade classes will be of­fered spon­sored field trips in which stu­dents re­ceive a pass to bring their fam­ily back. Whole fam­i­lies on fed­eral food or WIC as­sis­tance will get in with but a dol­lar-pay­ing adult.

Even af­ter all that, the city coun­cil Nov. 13 asked of­fi­cials to come back with more av­enues of ac­ces­si­bil­ity. Gar­den staffers are now brain­storm­ing ad­mis­sion-re­duc­ing rec­om­men­da­tions, while con­sid­er­ing the op­er­a­tional im­pli­ca­tions. In the mean­time, of­fi­cials plan to con­vene a meet­ing with lead­ers from sim­i­lar Fort Worth in­sti­tu­tions, in­clud­ing the zoo and mu­se­ums, in or­der to turn over ev­ery ac­ces­si­bil­ity rock.

The top pri­or­ity has to be sus­tain­ing the ex­pan­sive, ex­pen­sive gar­den for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions. This is so much more than a park; it’s a liv­ing mu­seum.

But by the time the plants awaken and the plans ripen in the spring, and long be­fore ad­mis­sion charges bud in July, keep­ing the Botanic Gar­den ac­ces­si­ble to ev­ery­one in the area, re­gard­less of in­come, will have been nearly as im­por­tant.

Per­haps the only way they could do more is by hand­ing out meat sand­wiches at the door.

MICHAEL RYAN Staff

Leap­ing frogs wel­come vis­i­tors to the Botanic Gar­den, which will be­gin charg­ing ad­mis­sion in July 2019.

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