Friday, June 20, 2008

Concerns About Fleet Lead Botanical Garden To End Boat Tours

For the first time in nearly 50 years, Norfolk Botanical Garden is not offering its popular boat tours of the grounds and Lake Whitehurst. The canopied boats, which are the original vessels launched in 1961, have been grounded because of safety concerns. Small holes were discovered in the steel hull of one of the boats this spring. Because the other two are the same age and model, all tours were suspended, possibly through the end of the year. "The last thing we want to do is have a paying guest go out on a boat and find their feet soaked in several inches of water," said Perry Mathewes, education program manager. Mathewes said the 25-passenger boats are too old to repair and need to be replaced. "It's gotten to the point that repairing them is more expensive than replacing them," he said. The staff is applying for grant money and seeking donations from Botanical Garden supporters. He estimates that two boats would cost at least $50,000. Boat tours are normally offered six times daily from April through October. Last year's fees were $4 for adults, $3 for members and $2 for children.The garden had to cancel a number of group boat tours that had already been reserved for about 1,000 people, resulting in a $3,000 loss in revenue, spokeswoman Amy Dagnall said. Not counting tour groups, about 10,000 people took the boat tours last fiscal year. That's about 16 percent of daily-admission visitors. During the year, there were about 201,500 entries into the Botanical Garden, including members, tour groups and special events such as weddings. The boat basin and canals were designed by noted horticulturist Fred Huette after a trip to Florida's Cypress Gardens to offer a different view of the Norfolk facility's 30 themed gardens covering 155 acres. The canals are in the form of a wishbone originating from the boat basin. The canal path allows for a 45-minute tour that includes Lake Whitehurst. The boat tours offer the best viewing of the Botanical Garden's eagle nest and of wildlife around Lake Whitehurst, Mathewes said. The water views of the rose garden and butterfly garden are also popular with tour participants, he said.

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