ST. GEORGE – Offering wildlife and resource conservation education in a one-of-a-kind visitor experience, the Red Hills Desert Garden will soon be open for business.
The garden is the product of a joint effort between the Washington County Water Conservancy District, the City of St. George, the Virgin River Program and the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve. Its goal is to educate the public about Southern Utah’s native fish and plant life, water-efficient living and landscaping practices, and resource conservation.
Located high above St. George on Red Hills Parkway, the garden offers spectacular views of Southern Utah’s signature red mountains to the north and the city to the south. And due to its setting near the popular Pioneer Park and the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve trail system, the garden will serve as an extension of the recreational opportunities offered in those areas.
The garden is Southern Utah’s first interactive education site offering information on water conservation, irrigation, native and endangered wildlife species and prehistoric fossils in one location. From behind glass display windows, visitors can observe a variety of live plant and fish species, some of which are endangered and rarely seen in the area.
“This garden will be a beautiful place to walk around and to learn about the plant and animal life of the area that we live in,” said Mark Goble, a landscape architect with the City of St. George Park Planning Division. “The vast amount of water-conserving plants will give the public an idea of what they could plant in their own yards. The fish viewing area will provide an aquarium-like feel that will educate the public about the native fish in the Virgin River and its tributaries.”
Among the many unique features of the garden include:
- A 5.75-acre site
- A faux rock replica canyon
- On-site restrooms and parking
- Environmental education and awareness information
- Conservation information
- Comprehensive display of over 170 native and endangered plants
- Comprehensive display of native and endangered fish
- Display of never-before-seen prehistoric fossils
- Suggestions for water-efficient landscaping
- Suggestions for water-efficient irrigation
One of the most unique features of the garden is the faux rock canyon, through which visitors can tour; fish and plant displays will be housed inside. Special attention has been given to the construction of the canyon to make sure it is the most authentic recreation of the surrounding rocks as possible.
The WCWCD and City of St. George are overseeing the planning, design and construction of the garden. Once it opens for public use, both organizations will co-manage it as a community resource.
“The garden will serve as an educational, recreational and social amenity for Dixie residents. Visitors will learn about native plants and fish, water-efficient landscaping, irrigation system management and more,” said Karry Rathje, WCWCD public information manager. “(We) are confident it will be a resource for environmentally conscious homeowners, developers and landscapers seeking information on the best conservation practices.”
Project planning began in 2008. Construction of Phase I, which included rough grading of the site, installation of utilities and the building of concrete retaining walls, began in the fall of 2011. Phase II, which began in the fall of 2012 and is currently in progress, includes the building of a restroom, pump house, additional concrete walls and faux rock to surround the structure. Construction of the final Phase III, which includes fine grading of the site, concrete flatwork, stream construction, building of shade structures, landscaping and irrigation, will begin at the end of May. The garden is expected to be finished and fully operational by late fall.
The garden aims to provide an educational experience for individual visitors, groups, businesspersons, government representatives and schools alike. Demonstrations, training programs and workshops targeting all ages will be held in the large pavilion, and special classes will be coordinated for field trips. Additionally, planning of an education center for the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve just west of the garden is in the infant stages; Goble said it is a strong possibility and a goal for both the city and the reserve.
Funding of the garden has been a collaborative effort between a number of federal, state and local agencies. The total cost of the project, which includes land, planning, construction and operational support, is estimated in excess of $1 million. The Virgin River Program donated $400,000, the City of St. George lent the property and landscape architecture services and numerous local contractors and businesses have provided supplies and resources.
“While the total cost of the garden is significant, it will pay for itself if 1,000 visitors implement a comparable landscape and irrigation system at their residences,” Rathje said. “Small changes in landscaping practices can result in big water savings. Educating people on this concept is the end goal of the Red Hills Desert Garden.”
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