During the final days of July, within the wildflowers, hills and trees at the Oklahoma Centennial Botanical Garden, one giant machine stood out against the green landscape. A white arm of a crane jetted out against the sky as the machine lowered two bridges over the garden's lake -- the final touches of the site's first landscaping project.
As this phase of the garden's master plan was completed, word began to spread that the Oklahoma Centennial Botanical Garden would receive a $1 million federal grant, allowing garden planners to jumpstart the next phases of the area.
"That will bring water and sewer onto the site," said Pearl Garrison, communications director for the garden. "We can't do much more as far as significant planting until we get water onto the site."
The grant was awarded after INCOG applied for a portion of economic development funds set aside for areas affected by a 2007 flood that damaged much of Osage and Tulsa Counties. In addition to the grant, Garrison said the garden will raise $250,000 in funds through contributions to go toward construction of the infrastructure.
Just three years after work began on the 160-acre site that sits seven miles northwest of downtown Tulsa, the rolling Osage Hills have already begun to transform into the world-class botanical garden envisioned by creators.
The Oklahoma Centennial Botanical Garden now has a seven acre lake, walking trails, 300 planted shade trees surrounding the water and a temporary Visitor Center open to the public. But even with the amount of work already completed, the master plan of the gardens includes almost 10 more years of work.
"Not many people have the opportunity to see the beginning of a botanical garden," Garrison said. "Now, people will be able to come out and see how it changes from year to year."
The master plan of the botanical garden includes a 3,000-seat amphitheater, three-story observation tower, interfaith chapel, conservatory, education buildings and a tram service. Various gardens will also include a children's garden and demonstration garden.
And the site will not only serve visitors looking to enjoy the landscape, Garrison said. The diversity of the area has already led archeologists, paleontologists, botanists and university professors to study the life and structure of the site. In fact, 100 of the 160 acres will be left intact throughout the creation of the botanical gardens for historical and ecological reasons.
"The research and education has already begun," she said.
Although the remaining projects are yet to be initiated, Garrison said the addition of the walking trails has caused attendance at the gardens to quadruple since last year. She expects more people to discover the multiple sides to the site as more phases are completed.
"Here, you have the panoramic views of downtown and the hills, and there is just so much history," she said. "Some of the trees here are 400-years-old, yet we're only seven miles from downtown Tulsa."
And Tulsans will soon benefit from this close proximity to the Gardens, Garrison said. One study conducted by the Oklahoma State University Spears School of Business showed that during the estimated 10 years of construction, $107 million will be pumped into the economy. Once completed, the gardens will see an estimated 300,000 visitors a year and employ about 300 full-time employees, according to the study.
The completion of infrastructure will help steer the gardens to this goal and will put Tulsa one step closer toward becoming a city flourishing with greenery.
"We truly believe that some day Tulsa will be known as the city of gardens," Garrison said.
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