Feature Article - November 2005
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Destination: Landscape

Nurturing visitor interest through creative park design

By Kelli Anderson

Growing Money on Trees

When landscape architecture and designs transition from facility prop to center attraction, money to fund that project is needed as well as money to keep it going and growing. Here are some ideas for raising the finances to get a project off the ground as well as to keep it thriving:

  • Get private donors or companies to underwrite a project.
  • Offer honorariums in a competition for the best designs.
  • Raise money by selling customized pavers (or other inscribable elements) to donors in the community at large.
  • Collaborate with the art community, schools and recreation groups.
  • Fund and build the project in stages if it cannot be done at one time.
  • Include revenue-creating amenities like concessions, ice rinks, mini golf, rental areas (stages, pavilions and grounds), restaurants, music venues, and outdoor and indoor theaters.
  • After a temporary display of themed park figures, auction them off to raise funds for the upkeep of the landscaped area.

Sheer beauty

Landscapes done well also share one thing in common: They're beautiful.

For Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, Va., beautiful landscaping has earned them the title of "World's Most Beautiful Theme

Park" by the National Amusement Park Historical Association for 15 consecutive years.

Visitors to the park's European themes will find their experience enhanced by plants and structures that suggest their particular location.

"In the Italy area, landscaped gardens are dotted with Romanesque statues," says Diane Centeno, communications manager at the park. "They give guests the impression that they are walking through formal Italian gardens."

The park's use of large mass plantings create impressive displays, while hundreds of container gardens and hanging baskets, water features, and carefully preserved 100-plus-year-old oaks, beech, pine and other trees add to the visitor's experience. All the landscaped elements work together echo their intended European charm.

Be unpredictable

A common mistake in many designs, however, is boring uniformity. Trees—often all the same species—are frequently part of a formal, monotonous layout. As one architect and syndicated columnist Arrol Gellner of Emeryville, Calif., describes, "trees are spaced exactly the same distance apart, seemingly poked into the ground like so many Tootsie Pops."

Gellner attributes much of this cookie-cutter approach to habit, hurry and lack of forethought.

"In principle, it has to be a gathering place—not formal, not arranged," Gellner says. "It must have a natural appeal. There is an element of serendipity or accident."

Appearing natural, however, takes effort and careful planning that goes beyond the mechanical output of a computer drafting program. To help avoid the stiffness of symmetry, Gellner suggests varying the distance between a variety of trees and allowing the design to be, as in nature, off-center, imprecise and unpredictable.