EDWARDSVILLE — A lease agreement between the city of Edwardsville and Southern Illinois University Edwardsville will bring The Gardens at SIUE into the family of Edwardsville Parks and Recreation offerings.
SIUE Interim Vice Chancellor Rich Walker and Edwardsville Mayor Hal Patton signed the agreement after a 3-2 affirmative city council vote Aug. 16 and the agreement awaits only the signature of SIU President Randy Dunn.
The city will annually review the 10-year renewable lease, Walker said. The council’s decision for approval came at the recommendation of the city’s Administration and Community Service Committee following its review and revision of the proposal.
The process began earlier this year, when the Gardens Advisory Board approached the city, Walker said.
“Up until the spring of 2016, the SIUE Foundation leased the land for The Gardens from the university,” he said. “At that time, the SIUE Foundation Board transferred the property back to the university.”
The university supported The Gardens with the provision of maintenance, care, security and utilities. It also held fiscal responsibility of donated funds held in the foundation.
The Gardens is the latest victim of budget cuts resulting from the state budget crisis.
“The foundation had transferred the funds which had been donated over the years to the university,” Walker said. “Unfortunately, there just are not enough funds to effectively support The Gardens.”
The funds that remain will be transferred to The Gardens Advisory Board to be used at their discretion.
History of The Gardens at SIUE
A campus arboretum was part of SIUE’s master plan. In 1990, Donal Myer, then dean of the former SIUE School of Sciences, moved to make those plans a reality on a 35-acre site on the campus’ north side. Frank Kulfinski, professor of environmental sciences, had gone to Myer with plans to develop the property. Together, they worked with the SIUE Foundation to establish accounts for donor opportunities as the plans progressed.
The goal was aligned with the master plan — to create an aesthetically pleasing arboretum that would serve as a teaching tool and community source for recreation and relaxation. Myer passed away in August of that same year, inspiring the SIU Board of Trustees to designate the site the Myer Arboretum.
Over the next several years there were several additions to the arboretum. The tree collection was expanded through donor-funded plantings. The entrance was finished with a stone plaza and benches recognizing Myer and other benefactors of the project. Presidents’ Way, recognizing former SIUE Foundation Board of Directors presidents with named benches, provided seating along the paved pathways.
Student involvement grew with the arboretum. SIUE engineering students used the site as a learning tool to help survey the pathways that would maximize the site’s topography and encourage visitors. School of Sciences students worked at identification of plant life and determining future plantings, which were started in the university greenhouse. Art students provided sculptures and artwork to enhance the beauty.
Donor contributions also expanded the site. A bridge was funded and constructed over the Turtle Pond. A fountain was added to the pond’s north end with funds provided by Rita Hardy in honor of her husband and family.
Arboretum becomes part of The Gardens
As part of Missouri Botanical Gardens President Dr. Peter Raven’s Metro East outreach project, the SIUE arboretum was named a Signature Garden in 2003. In 2004, representatives of the university and the community decided to make the Myer Arboretum a more conventional botanical garden with the name change to The Gardens at SIUE that included the Myer Arboretum. The garden continued to grow.
In the spring of 2006, the Hardy Family Wind Forest was dedicated. Shortly thereafter, the Friends of the Gardens group was established to oversee volunteerism and donor opportunities. Regional interest, as well as philanthropic support, continued to grow.
The Butterfly Garden was designed with plants that attract butterflies of varying species. The Prairie Portal, a 1-acre garden created by the Edwardsville Rotary Club, serves as a stop along the gardens’ winding paths. A product of SIUE students as part of a senior capstone project, The Lantern is a path over the bridge and through the pines that leads to a small stone amphitheater that faces Turtle Pond and can be used for small gatherings.
The future of The Gardens at SIUE
The city of Edwardsville will hold the lease for the 35-acre garden. It will provide general support for the growth and development of The Gardens at SIUE, the resources of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, and a $40,000 commitment in the first year to assist in operations. These funds will come from Community Redevelopment Grants already secured by the city. SIUE will continue to provide utilities, maintenance of parking lots and pedestrian walkways, and police protection.
The future expansion and development, however, will fall primarily in the hands of The Gardens at SIUE Advisory Board.
“All of our members are master gardeners and master naturalists as designated by the University of Illinois Extension,” said Marian Smithson, advisory board chair and co-coordinator of the master gardeners and master naturalists volunteers. “We have 22 master gardeners who logged over 2,000 volunteer hours at The Gardens in the past year.”
The dedication and volunteerism of the advisory board — made up of Smithson, Peter Fornof, Linda Stevens, Bill Retzlaf, Bill Hanke, Ann Tosovsky, Lynn Kerkemeyer, Bob McClellan and Dave Jennings, along with ad hoc member Dan Mueller, a former employee of The Gardens — will continue.
“We have workdays every Tuesday and Thursday,” Smithson said.
In addition to their sweat equity, the group plans to move forward with securing philanthropic support for The Gardens.
“We will be setting up bylaws for the group and establishing an account through the Edwardsville Community Foundation until we can obtain our own 501(c)3 status,” Smithson said.
This will allow the group to continue to receive donations for projects and operations of The Gardens.