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Our Views: Garden will be a scenic asset to community
First phase of project debuts, with completion due to 2010
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The vision that Lessie and Charles Smithgall had back in 2001 is beginning to take shape. And it is nothing short of spectacular.

Smithgall Woodland Garden, a lush, green, 185-acre slice of paradise north of Gainesville, already is offering a glimpse of what a dazzling venue it will become when completed in 2010.

The first phase of the $10 million project was unveiled this week for a select group of local visitors. The project is being developed by the Atlanta Botanical Garden and EDAW, a San Francisco-based design firm.

Among the planned features are a "sky walk" offering a tree-top view of the terrain, a 5,000-square-foot visitors center overlooking a pond, plus trails through the forest featuring native and imported species of flora from around the world. Additional phases will add a waterfall trail, children's garden, amphitheater and a boardwalk over lake marsh areas.

The groundwork for the garden came on a $3 million endowment grant by the Smithgalls. The Botanical Garden has added another $2 million, and is working to raise in the other $5 million needed for completion.

As one of only a handful of woodland garden preserves in the United States, it is likely to become a popular destination for visitors from around the country. It is projected to draw some 32,000 visitors in its first year and 50,000 by its fifth. The garden will be available for events, such as weddings, corporate retreats and musical concerts, and offer instructional programs on plant life for young and old.

It's an understatement to say that the garden will be a major asset to the economic and cultural future of our community. Generations to come will be able to savor our glorious natural habitat as they learn about art and horticulture. It's a quality-of-life enhancement that will never go out of style.

And it's yet another example of the contributions to our community made by the Smithgalls, starting with the newspaper you're reading now and extending to a number of philanthropic efforts over the years, including the Smithgall Woods nature preserve in White County near Helen.

Though Charles Smithgall died in 2002, Mrs. Smithgall has been able to experience the fruition of their dream to set aside their family property as a permanent celebration of our area's scenic beauty.

We applaud the Atlanta Botanical Garden for its efforts to date. We also thank the garden's campaign committee, led by Sandra and Jack Bailey and Peggy and Jim Walters, for its work in raising the needed funds.

And we add our gratitude and affection to Lessie Smithgall and her late husband for the vision that set the whole idea in motion more than six years ago.