South Texas Botanical Gardens & Nature Center
South Texas Botanical Gardens & Nature Center
HISTORY & DEVELOPMENT NARRATIVE (update 06/15)
The Corpus Christi Botanical Society, Inc., formed in 1983, was a grass-roots effort by a small group of horticulturally inclined citizens. Opening in 1987, the 110-acre Corpus Christi Botanical Gardens, at 8510 S. Staples St., included a preliminary one-acre “cottage” garden, small farmhouse Information Center and a nature trail--through 1995.
(In 1992, the Botanical Society donated 90 acres of its land to the City of Corpus Christi, which was used as a match for a Parks & Wildlife grant awarded to the City, to purchase a new Botanical Gardens site across Staples St., which the STBG now leases from the City for $1 a year. The remaining 20 acres, an Indian Burial ground, later was sold by the Botanical Society to the Archeological Conservancy for $40,000.)
In early 1996, the Botanical Gardens officially opened its new 180-acre permanent site at 8545 S. Staples, rich with preserved natural wetlands and pristine natural habitat along Oso Creek. Significant by-laws changes occurred in 1999. The Botanical Society changed its corporation name to the Botanical & Nature Institute of South Texas, Inc. The membership also voted to increase the number of potential board positions from 15 to 50 to enhance its community profile and increase fundraising capabilities. A high-profile advisory board was added.
When the new permanent site in 1996, the City’s Parks & Wildlife grant had built the Bird & Butterfly Trail, picnic/play area, Palapa Grande on Gator Lake and a dirt parking area. Private funding and donations had added a Children’s Garden, and compact 1800-square-foot Visitors Center. Fall of 1996 brought dedication of the four-winged lathe-constructed Exhibit House, as well as one of CCBG’s cornerstones, the Don Larkin Memorial Orchid Greenhouse housing nearly 2000 orchids--built, curated and maintained by Sam Jones with help from the South Texas Orchid Society. This Orchid House was demolished making room for a new Orchid Conservatory completed in 2015 (see next page).
In 1997, the construction of Sensory Garden infrastructure began. An additional $45,000 phased “artscape” project was begun in 1999 funded by the Amy Shelton McNutt Charitable Trust, plus private donors. Also in 1997, the Plumeria Collection was installed surrounding the Exhibit House, donated and maintained by the Plumeria Society of South Texas.
The large, unique Rose Garden was designed in 1998, built in 1999 and planted January, 2000, funded by Flint Hills Resources. The massive memorial Rose Garden Fountain was added in 2001. The 30 x 40-foot Rose Garden Pavilion was completed summer, 2002, funded by Jennifer Bowen and Bill Bates. The Rose Garden’s 300 roses are curated by the Corpus Christi Rose Society.
In 1999, the Hibiscus Garden opened, funded by CITGO, followed by a Water Garden. Construction projects in 2000 included widening and resurfacing of the Bird & Butterfly Trail; adding 500 feet to the Wetlands Awareness Boardwalk; and creating an earthen levee in the large wetlands to help maintain water levels—all grant funded. The wetland exhibit was nationally recognized for outstanding partnerships in conservation and education by USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service during National Wetlands Month in May, 2005.
The Arid Garden was built in 2001 funded by a private donor; and construction began on the Wildscape & Tree Demonstration Garden. Also that year, the interior parking area was converted to a grassed festival site. Paved parking for 33 vehicles was built along the entrance road, funded by the Amy Shelton McNutt Charitable Trust and Coastal Bend Community Foundation.
In 2002, a Hummingbird Garden was built, funded by the Corpus Christi Area Garden Council; construction began on phased, wood security fencing; and the final 17 parking stalls were built—both funded by the McNutt Trust and Coastal Bend Community Foundation. In 2003, the Gardens became the Corpus Christi Botanical Gardens & Nature Center, recognizing vast native habitat and natural wetlands.
A new master plan developed by Richter Architects was adopted in November, 2004. In 2006, the Plumeria Collection got a permanent home with the construction and dedication of the Plumeria Garden and Lucien Willoughby Viewing Platform, with McNutt Trust and private funding. In October, 2006, the first phase of the Earthkind Demonstration and Trial Garden was opened. The regional influence and mission of the Gardens & Nature Center was recognized in Fall 2006 by changing the name to South Texas Botanical Gardens & Nature Center.
In 2008, a compact Military Rose Garden, funded by the Corpus Christi Rose Society, was built just inside the main entrance. Also in 2008, Board member Jennifer Bowen Bates purchased a two-plus acre commercial building site adjacent to the STBGNC for future expansion area, and the opportunity to relocate the entrance to a safer, more visible location.
In 2010--on sites originally occupied by the Exhibit House and Hibiscus Garden--the Butterfly Garden, 2600-square-foot screened Butterfly House, and the (John & Nelwyn) Anderson Bromeliad Conservatory, containing a significant piece of the globally gathered Anderson collection, were dedicated, all funded by grants and multiple private donors. Two bronze wildlife sculptures by internationally known sculptor Kent Ullberg were dedicated in 2012 on the Mary Hope Brennecke Nature Trail, funded by the Hank Brennecke Estate.
A major year of growth was 2013, when a new custom-built Modular Complex was dedicated on the recently-acquired adjacent 2.5 acre site, previously purchased by Board member Jennifer Bowen. The 2000 square-foot Education Station, (funded by multiple foundation and private donors) allowed classes to move from their Visitors Center space now the Resident Reptiles exhibit; and 1000 sq ft Brennecke Administration Building, funded by the Brennecke Estate, allowed administrative staff to vacate crowded office space in the Visitors Center, which then was used to expand and remodel Joan Batman’s Nature’s Boutique. Education Station provides not only lots more classroom space, but also roughly four times the indoor rental space which includes a kitchen facility and conference room, PLUS an adjacent outdoor raised deck connecting the two modular buildings. The impressive lighted Durrill Entrance Marker, funded by the Devary Durrill Foundation; and new Monkey Mansion Tree House in children’s play area, funded by Joyce Barnette, also were dedicated in those June, 2013 ceremonies.
In 2013/14, $425,000 was received from a local foundation to begin construction on the new greenhouse complex made up of the Samuel Jones Orchid Conservatory, Sweet Adeline’s Support Greenhouse, and a Rainforest Conservatory. The first two complex segments, plus foundation for the third, was completed in spring 2015. The Orchid Conservatory began it’s soft opening at BIG BLOOM, April 4, 2015.
NOW: It is hoped an additional $300,000 will soon be raised to build the Rainforest Conservatory. Another pressing need is approximately $130,000 to resurface the parking area and add an automatic gate at the entrance. Widening/other improvements to South Staples St. (FM2444) scheduled to begin summer, 2015, will allow for new South Oso Parkway construction (City of Corpus Christi street), providing a wider safer Botanical Gardens entrance west of the Durrill Entrance Marker.
Gardens weren’t the only things growing during the initial development of the 180-acre site. Personal memberships rose from approximately 350 in 1996 to over roughly 900 in 2009; and in 2015 number topping1400, thanks in part to our membership in the Reciprocal Gardens program, and a variety of membership efforts. An innovative corporate membership program was introduced in 2000, with seven major corporations in the Coastal Bend leading the way. Education programming and workshops, taught by local experts volunteering their time, originally numbered two classes per month; but currently have more than doubled in both number and attendance, with broader educational and environmental scope, including birding, natural history, kids nature camps, and of course horticulture. Attendance has grown rapidly with over 45,000 guests in 2014.
STBG/NC also has developed excellent working relationships with the local Convention & Visitors Bureau, Chamber of Commerce and local media making tourism dollars a significant part of its revenue, while at the same time giving back to the community in horticultural education, economic growth and quality of life. Additionally, the Botanical Gardens & Nature Center often works with the Texas State Aquarium, USS Lexington Museum, Corpus Christi Museum of Science & History and the Art Museum of South Texas in reciprocal membership and joint marketing efforts. STBGNC is a member of the American Public Garden Association, American Horticulture Society, Texas Travel Industry Association, Texas Coastal Bend Regional Tourism Council, Greater Corpus Christi Hospitality Association, Chamber of Commerce and Padre Island Business Association.
The Botanical Gardens & Nature Center is considered one of the City’s major non-profit cultural and educational attractions; is positioned as a major environmental education and nature tourism destination; and helps makes the Coastal Bend and South Texas a more attractive region for business development, tourism/economic growth and quality of life.
This heightened level of visibility, public awareness and credibility has led to grants and donations allowing rapid exhibit growth, steady increases in visitor counts and revenues, growth in seminar/workshop attendance, plus much higher profile, larger Board.
The South Texas Botanical Gardens & Nature Center is operated by the Botanical and Nature Institute of South Texas, Inc., a 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization.
Revenue sources are personal and corporate memberships; admissions, grants and donations; gift shop sales; fundraisers; and education program fees. STBG/NC leases its site from the City, and for seven years has received a $20,000 Hotel Occupancy Tax allocation from the City, approximately 5% of its operating budget. No other public funds are received.
It has grown to an extremely lean 11 paid staff, three of which are part-time. It relies heavily on its Board of Directors, volunteers, area plant societies, Nueces Master Gardeners, Texas Master Naturalists, Audubon groups and Community Service program.
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