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Our views: Smithgall Woodland Garden is a worthy project and deserves our support

POSTED: April 10, 2011 12:30 a.m.

From academic endeavors to mountain nature preserves, the arts and abandoned animals, the Smithgall name has become synonymous with philanthropic generosity in the North Georgia area. The late Charles Smithgall and his wife Lessie, founders of The Times, have created a legacy of giving back to the community that is remarkable for both its scope and its diversity.

The Smithgall Woodland Garden, now being developed on 185 acres in the city of Gainesville, is but one example of the many exemplary projects associated with the Smithgall name. The Garden will incorporate the Smithgall family home and surrounding estate. Elsewhere in today's edition of The Times you will find a story about the fundraising effort now under way to gain community support for the Garden, and a special section explaining just how special this particular conservation project will be upon completion.

The Smithgall Woodland Garden offers an opportunity not only to preserve incredible natural beauty, but also to create research, teaching and educational opportunities within a beautiful, natural classroom. Operated in conjunction with the Atlanta Botanical Garden, the lush natural habitat of the Woodland Garden will be used by local schools and colleges for hands-on research and horticultural studies.

The Woodland Garden also provides the promise of being a unique and valuable addition to the local economy, both by the creation of jobs and by virtue of being a true destination attraction that will draw tourists and visitors to the community.

But research and tourism aside, the greatest virtue of the Woodland Garden is it will preserve for prosperity a unique and majestic tribute to the natural beauty of North Georgia. Included within the protected acreage are more than 140 varieties of magnolias, 75 varieties of maples, 230 different types of hydrangea and hundreds of seasonal flowers and shrubs. The Garden will be a showplace for traditional plants and trees of the Southeastern United States, but also will incorporate flora from other geographic areas as well.

Complementing the natural attractions at the Woodland Garden will be a visitor center, vast walking trails, waterways, a 5,000-square-foot greenhouse and a 4-acre nursery. A special focus of the research and conservation efforts will be the preservation of rare and endangered species.

It is remarkable that this scenic wonder is located within the city limits of Gainesville, a fact that is almost impossible to comprehend given the city's growth in recent years. It truly will be the sort of attraction that will leave other communities envious.

A group of residents and community leaders has been named to the steering committee for the Woodland Garden to assure it develops with plenty of local input.

In 2001, the Smithgalls started the process by the donation of their property. A master plan subsequently was created by a leading landscape architectural firm, and by 2005 volunteers were working in the greenhouse. Work on preparing the Garden for public debut has continued in the years since.

While the Garden is not yet open to the public, it is already paying dividends for the community. Master gardener groups from city and county schools have been hosted there, as well as local garden clubs. In addition, hundreds of trees and shrubs have been donated from the Garden to Habitat for Humanity and other community projects.

Much has been done to lay the groundwork for the Woodland Gardens, but much remains to be done before it can become the living treasure envisioned by the Smithgalls. To turn potential into reality, the Woodland Garden needs the financial help and support of our community.

The Woodland Garden has now launched a major fundraising drive dubbed the New Seasons Campaign. A successful fundraising effort not only will expedite completion of the Garden, but also will facilitate long-term endowment of funds for future operations.

"At some point, a man has to put something back. I hate to see people just take from the land and never put something back," Charles Smithgall once said. The Woodland Garden campaign is an opportunity for all of us to put something back into the land and the community.

Mrs. Smithgall recently celebrated her 100th birthday, and her wish on that special occasion was that the people of Hall County would celebrate with her by donating to the Woodland Garden effort. We can't imagine a more fitting way to recognize the generosity of the Smithgalls and the importance of this unique conservation project than by honoring her wish. We encourage everyone who can to please do so.

 



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