Botanical Garden Proposed for McIntire Park

The Meadowcreek Parkway and the YMCA will significantly reduce the size of McIntire Park, including lopping at least two holes off the golf course. Though only golfers can say whether a seven-hole course is of much good to anybody, one local group is proposing replacing the golf course with a botanical garden, Seth Rosen writes in the Progress. City leaders are supportive of the idea, but the catch is that it’d cost upwards of $50M (!) to pull it off. That could be done with city dollars, or the city could give a nonprofit a lease on the land, and that group would do it as a barn-raising (in the style of The Paramount). It had been suggested that a recreational pond be installed there, which was a bang-up idea, but the Army Corps of Engineers said it wasn’t feasible. A botanical garden would certainly reduce the sting of losing a chunk of parkland.

33 thoughts on “Botanical Garden Proposed for McIntire Park”

  1. Walked back there a few weeks ago. The most interesting part is right in the path of the highway: a series of stone walls along the creek itself. I guess they go along with the estate that became Rock Hill Academy and is now MACAA. The same stone walls are at the base of the eastbound Rio onramp to the bypass.

    I always heard the golf course was cheaper than Penn Park, but lower quality. Does it get much use? The garden sounds like a good idea. It would be loud if the highway every gets built, but not as loud as Norfolk’s botanical park, which is next to the airport. I’d like to see indigenous food plants, like weird berries, but wildflowers are OK too.

  2. Since the locals officials are reportedly in favor, this is another example of Charlottesville’s intelligent problem-solving process which is limited to brain-storming. “Flamini and her group envision McIntire Park eventually rivaling the renowned Lewis Ginter botanical gardens in Richmond…” I guess, if we can mimic Richmond, $50M should be no object. Here’s a link to descriptions of their formal gardens:
    I wonder how much building those houses will cost the tax payers.

  3. I saw a botanical garden in Madison, Wisconson, and it was gorgeous- a real asset to the community. Not only that, but it is the most popular place in the region for holding weddings, receptions, parties, etc, which means that it is able to cover much of its day-to-day operating costs.

    Yeah, it would cost a lot to build, but heck, if Madison, Wisconson came up with cash like that, we can, too.

  4. I like the idea of a very long-term lease to a non-profit to get it done. So long as free public access to the land is guaranteed and there is some sort of deadline by which some actual work has to have been done or else the lease is terminated.

    You’d have to have a serious professional staff managing and overseeing everything, but I would think that rather a lot of work on something like this could be done through the work of volunteers. Charlottesville and Albemarle are overflowing with experienced amateur gardeners, many of whom are retired and have the time to volunteer for this sort of thing. And I don’t know if there is a Master Gardener program already available locally, but if you had an AHS Master Gardener program run through the gardens then that could provide a steady stream of experienced, knowledgeable volunteer manpower.

  5. The idea of the botanical gardens has merit. As for raising the money, as a professional fundraiser, my suggestion would be to build the park in stages. Raise the funds to get the basics done and hire a small staff. Once people can visit and see what’s going on, more money will roll in. $50 million is a lot and I’d be curious to see a cost analysis of how it would be spent.

  6. In 2006, it is estimated Madison’s population was 223,389; Charlbemarle’s was 125,000. Madison’s metropolitan statiscal area’s population was estimated to be 543,022, making it the 82nd largest in the country; Charlbemarle’s m.s.a. is around 190,278. I got this info from Wiki. This means that there’s a lot more dollars per capita required for this project in Charlottesville. Of course, money is no object for us.

  7. The garden is a great idea. Duke Garden in N.C. is a great example of a beautiful park that is an asset to the community. The Parkway and YMCA will forever degrade our park, but it never hurts to try and improve whats left of it. It’s amazing how little passive recreation park acres we have in this city.

  8. I love botanic gardens, but I don’t see how this helps the overall community.

  9. The Blue Ridge Hospital site would be a better alternative for a Botanical Garden. It wouldn’t be as noisy and the land at East McIntire could be used for some more ball diamonds that we keep losing. I have a feeling that if the gardens go in at McIntire, the folks with the garden will want noise ordinances enacted for the ball fields and CHS. They will probably even gripe about the trains.

  10. Gripes! The golf course is on the McIntire Road side of the tracks, not the softball and CHS side. If anything, the railroad is too quiet, since the introduction of welded rail about a decade ago. No more clickity-clack.

  11. The botanical garden idea has come up before. If the parkway is ever built(and that still is an if) and golf no longer feasible there, might be a good idea. Still doesnt excuse what the city did with the YMCA deal.
    Years ago there was talk of moving the wading pool and playground to Melbourne Road which has never happened. I hope they can keep the pool there as it is a historic structure(built around 1933) and generations of local people have fond memories of it, going there as kids and later taking their children and grandchildren there.
    The $50 million price tag for the garden is another matter though, definitely not something to saddle the taxpapers with in these times. Another idea-why not,assuming golf goes,let the area between the railroad and the parkway revert to a natural wilderness area,a la Ivy Creek,little or no maintenance required? The Rivanna Trails Association could even put in some walking trails. Our wildlife needs all the habitat it can get what with more and more land being razed for concrete and asphalt around here.

  12. Some corrections here. Helen’s proposal is not the first one, nor the only one. Robert Sacillato and I have already submitted a similar proposal to City Council quite some time ago. Flamini, first approached us about joining our effort, but for whatever reasons, it appears she’s decided to “go it alone”. While we still feel a united effort would be more worthwhile, I feel it is important to point out some difference in our vision:

    Here are some major differences:

    1) We’d like the focus to be on biodiversity and conservation, and a catalyst for empowering groups doing related work in our community and the world at large.

    (So, to answer jmcnamera, the value to the community would be in education, and in helping to bring attention to local, regional and global species that are in danger and help preserve them before they are lost. Eventually, it would also attract tourism and jobs to the area.)

    2) In the spirit of #1, since the goal is biodiversity, there would not be need of elaborate fountains, large welcome centers, and lots of other buildings and facilities. We’d prefer to be as “low impact” as possible, while still striving for the highest aesthetic possible. If McIntire is chosen the design would also try to emphasize the larger use of the area as a natural area. In short, it would be more like the Botanical Garden in Asheville then Lewis Ginter.

    3) We don’t feel that McIntire is automatically the best place. We’d like to evaluate all options, including McIntire, Morven and Biscuit Run and choose the best site based upon merit and practicality

    4) We feel this can all be done gradually with far less money than fifty million (although that would certainly be nice!). In fact, we propose that it begin modestly with a few public gardens, then add a inexpensive greenhouse/hoop-house for propagation, then later build a conservatory.

    5) A rare plant collection already exists that will be donated to the garden as soon as the project moves further forward. Our plan would provide a home on day one for globally and locally endangered species and has several thousand in grant money already pledged towards the project, and the support of many local botanists.

  13. Isn’t there already some type of botanical garden in Washington Park? You know, down on the lower level back behind the B-ball courts? I thought there was some kind of garden…herb garden, frog pond, reefer patch, whatver.

  14. Garden Guy,

    The garden you speak of is the Women’s WPA Native Wildflower garden. It no longer exists, but there has been research done on it that has been published here and there.

    I’ve always felt that history is something that should be acknowledged, and restored if possible. Of course, someone told me that they felt the current YMCA design might end up destroying the original site. If so, at the very least I hope they send some archeologists out there to record whatever they can find before that history is lost.

  15. It seems to me that Garden Guy may be referring to the bog garden, which is still there.

  16. Hey, that’s it! The Bog Garden. That just sounds kind of weird…like Jumbo Shrimp or something.

  17. Obviously, you’ve never seen a real bog then…

    A big issue I’ve had with the Cities “bog” garden is that it is mislabeled. Bogs are very acidic, sunny, low nutrient, and covered in sphagnum moss. Here’s what a real bog garden should look like

    They are really beautiful places in the wild containing things like wild orchids and carnivorous plants, but there are not very many of them left.

  18. You know, those 2 West Virginia bogs, at one the signage is all about how it was created by environmental destruction by the Dutch 300 years ago, but the other one doesn’t mention that cause at all. Do you know the real story?

    Dolly Sods, the more northern one, and the higher one, has the story about the Dutch harvesting or burning all the trees, and the cupping of the bedrock. The other one, Cranberry Glades, has all the signs about it being a Alpine micro-climate separated by a million leagues from Vermont or wherever.

    Can you clear that up? And why is Cville a good place for a bog garden? Nothing to do with all the vegetarians is it? :)

  19. Well first of all, there’s alot more than two West Virginia bogs… They actually have quite a few, many being tundra remanents of the last ice age. With Dolly Sods, you are correct that it was basically the scene of a major environmental disaster. It was once covered by massive trees, some over 15 feet in diameter. These were clearcut and the humus that built up over thousands of years dried out without the trees and then sparks form the railroads caught it on fire. It burned for a very long time, and when it was all done, the result was the heath we know as Dolly Sods. Fire is the friend of bogs, they are fire dependant ecosystems, and even in the colonial reports people spoke about large swamps and wetlands in that area. I suspect there were already some bogs and the fires enlarged them dramatically. Cranberry glades is natural (Well… besides the introduced pitcherplants.)

    Okay, so why is Virginia a good place for a bog garden? First of all, Rob and I are proposing a botanical garden, so it’ll be much more comprehensive than that. Also, I have to complicate matters a bit… you see there are many kinds of bogs: kettle bogs, seeps, savannahs, and carolina bays to name a few. There are no kettle bogs beneath pennsylvania (the glaciers never made it further south than that), but we do have lots of other bog ecosystems and are the furthest north range the pine savannah. Being smack in the middle of the mid-atlantic, Virginia has many unique ecosystems that represent both the furthest north and the furthest south of the range of many plants (sometimes at the same time). For example, Augusta county has the highest diversity of wild orchids in the entire blue ridge. (One of the finest mountain bog ecosystems I’ve ever seen is also in Augusta). Albemarle is not without unique biological assets of its own… it is home to some species that are at the edge of their southern range, like bunchberry, another ice age survivor. As global warming, development and other factors threaten to wipe out many species, we have a unique oportunity ro help preserve biodiversity and rare species before it is too late.

    That’s probably more than you wanted to know… but hopefully that answered all your questions.


  20. Thanks! Sounds a heck of a lot more interesting than a golf course. I’d still be more interested in native food plants than flowers, but that is a matter of “taste”. Weird berries, etc.

  21. Hey who’s to say native food plants won’t be included? I certainly grow some interesting ones myself, including paw paw, two species of native passionfruit, gooseberry, watermellon berry, purple flowered raspberry (probably my favorite), wintergreen, and a bunch more. I don’t think we’ll limit ourselves to just natives either, but rather select plants that can showcase biodiversity locally, regionally, nationally and globally.

    Also, If you like weird fruits, you should really check out edible landscaping out in Afton. They’ve got some great stuff.


  22. Now that you mention it, a bog sounds like the perfect place for growing some “shrooms”.

  23. Leave the golf course alone! It is historic, and one of the few places really old seniors and beginners can play where they don’t get run over by the new wave of a-holes that dominate the golf courses now. It is also a very affordable option for everyone. There are always players on that course, young and old, it is fine the way it is, it doesn’t need to be turned into a millionaire flower garden. Nobody goes to Lewis Ginter in Richmond but rich old fuddy duddies….I want my ashes scattered there, when I leave this earth, there are lots of others that share in this sentiment about that old course.

  24. Leave the golf course alone!

    Well, I’m afraid that the premise of this discussion is that it’s not going to be left alone. Two holes are going. The question now is what to do with what’s left.

    It is historic

    Really? In what way?

  25. I still remember when Pen Park was mostly trails and natural areas, and the big outcry when the Parks decided to turn it into a big golf course. As a Cross Country runner at Western Albemarle, I was ticked that we were losing one of the best courses in the area (and which was used for the Ragged Mountain Cup). When the new course was made, one of the first rules was that runners were never allowed on the golf paths. The response of the Parks at that time was that McIntire was going to be retired and eventually be made into greenspace, so Pen Park was the replacement. They also conceeded to try and replace or reroute many of the trails at Pen Park.

    My perspective, which is probably not popular, is that Golf is a somewhat elitist sport. Not in the sense that rich people play it, but in the sense that it occupies large areas of land which cannot be used for anything else but that sport. (Also, as I recall, during this same time period when the golf course was being built at Pen Park, there was not a single person of color at Farmington). So, in terms of investment of public money and space, does it really make sense to have a vast area of land set aside that only a handful of charlottesville citizens can use? Given our already limited greenspace, it makes mare more sense to have spaces that can be either multiuse, or used by more people.

    In addition, it uses massive amounts of water, and causes polution due to the large amount of fertilizer needed to keep the greens green. Face it, Albemarle is hardly the fields of Athenry, nor the highlands of Scotland. To make it look like it is requires massive effort. Audobon does have a certification program to make more sustainable courses, but as a general rule golf courses have a pretty big sum negative impact on the environment. As a case in point, apparently Donald Trump isn’t even satisfied with a course that already looks like Scotland and wants to destroy the natural dunes of Belmedie with his new course. It’s stuff like that which makes me seriously doubt that golf can ever be a sustainable sport.

    Due to all these things, I frankly am not sure that Golf is something we should subsidize at all through the parks at all. Obviously, a large number of people disagree… therefore we have Penn Park. I’ve made peace with that, but it’s time the rest of us finally got back the greenspace we lost when Penn Park was effectively ruined for the rest of us. Obviously I’ve got an emotional bias here, probably just as big as those that would want to see more public golf courses, but there it is…

    Besides, as Waldo pointed out. It’s a battle already lost. It’s going to be greenspace, not golfcourse. The question now is “What kind?”

  26. 40 acres of flowers will require a great deal of water, too, and bother people’s allergies. Let the area re-forest naturally around some predetermined trails.

  27. Good history. I’ll just add that Farmington at the time also had no Jews. So is Birdwood a public course? I’m for at least one public course, but keeping one at McIntire if the parkway is ever built does not make much sense.

  28. C-ville Eye, you’ve watched too many allergy ads… Colorful or showy flowers are generally insect pollinated and thus have sticky pollen that doesn’t blow in the wind. It is only the wind pollinated plants you have to worry about (and they don’t make good TV ads). Your allergies are caused by things like grass, pine trees, oaks, and ragweed (which has unnoticable green flowers). So… no a botanical garden wouldn’t contribute to allergies (unless you intend to be rubbing the flowers over your body or eating them – neither of which I’d recommend).

    As for water, yes, it will require water and we’d hope to harvest rainwater and use drought resistant plants where appropriate. (Even bog gardens function by having a liner like a pond does that captures and stores water). All in all, we’ll use far less water than a golf course.

  29. Don’t worry Waldo, you’re not alone. Oddly, many people don’t seem to know that. I once even had to correct someone who worked for parks because they thought Ragweed and Goldenrod were the same thing. Apparently they bloom at the same time, so many people are convinced they are allergic to goldenrod, when its really the unremarkable greenish plant growing nearby that is the problem.

  30. So glad to know that people in California and Arizona are not allergies…I wonder what game my neice has been playing. It’s also nice to know that the gardens in Richmond only require rain water. Or are you just making a case for the type of “garden” that you plan to run?

  31. People in California aren’t Allergies? Really?

    Seriously though, I’m not sure what kind of conclusion you are trying to draw here… Are you saying there are no wind-pollinated plants in California or Arizona? Last time I checked, there were plenty.

    As to your second point, not quite. I’m not making the case for the kind of Botanical Garden I wish to run, but rather the kind that has been formally proposed by Rob and myself (along with the other members of the Charlottesville Botanical Garden organization). It will be ran by whomever is hired as director, and there would be an open process to choose the most qualified applicant. As I said above, we aren’t proposing another Lewis Ginter. That’s Flamini’s vision, not ours. In fact, we’re not even commited to it being in McIntire… Our goal is to choose the best possible site based on its own merits, which may (or may not) be McIntire Park.

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