Tending to an accessible, sustainable garden

It’s impossible to think of everything.

But the Fort Worth Botanic Garden Task Force has come pretty close.

This group of 16 from all walks of Fort Worth life spent well over a year investigating the cherished institution’s current and long-term needs; how to fund them; how to charge admission for the largely free facility while still making it accessible to all; and how it should be governed going forward.

In a recent 24-page report and 60-slide presentation — to build on an earlier 500-page analysis of the garden’s growing disrepair — the group lays out a strategic plan that is comprehensive in both its vision and its thoughtfulness.

To begin ramping up the $4.4 million budget and the garden’s condition — there’s an annual $1.2 million budget shortfall and some $15 million in deferred maintenance — the task force strongly recommends admission fees and a private, nonprofit governance structure that can be more nimble in finding synergies between philanthropic gifts and bond funding. In short, not unlike the zoo.

The city council will consider those and other recommendations at its meeting Tuesday evening.

It’s unfortunate to have to start charging for the entire garden — the Japanese Garden already has a fee — but sadder still is inviting guests to stroll our garden when we haven’t tended it as we should. And the volunteer task force has turned over every rock to find a viable alternative. The most obvious one — philanthropy — isn’t much of an option: If the garden’s financial condition is worse than its physical one, donors won’t have the confidence to give.

The trick is to find the right fee structure. In this delicate task, the task force has done an admirable job with a garden variety of admission prices. Those who can afford it will pay $12 an adult, $10 a senior and $6 for children 6-15 — with available annual memberships of $50 for individuals and $100 for families. But for Lone Star Card/SNAP/WIC visitors, an annual family membership will be just $30 — and federal supplemental food aid families can get in for just a dollar under the national Museums4All program. Summer admission is to be free for active-duty military families.

There will even be limited numbers of free passes available through local nonprofits and even some available for check-out at the library.

Fees can be tweaked if we don’t them right at the outset. But it’s clear the task force has done all it could to keep the garden accessible, even as we pool resources to keep it sustainable.