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Do not alienate local users from the Gardens

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Tue, Mar 6. 2012

Our historic Botanic Gardens has been in the news quite a lot recently.

Just a little over a week ago, the site played host to our royal guests, and recent visitors to the site would have noticed that the work of the National Parks, Rivers and Beaches Authority (NPRBA) and the newly formed Friends of the Botanic Gardens is already paying off, as the site now has a much tidier appearance.{{more}}

There is much more work to be done, but we have no doubt that by the time the 250th anniversary of the Gardens is celebrated in 2015, our most popular recreation site would be restored to its former state of beauty and splendour.

About a month ago, the Chairman of the NPRBA announced that Cabinet is considering a proposal made by the Board for entrance fees to be charged at the Botanic Gardens.

There has been much discussion about this, even though it has not yet been made public what fees have been proposed and when they will be introduced.

We are not opposed to a small fee being charged, but in arriving at a price, consideration should be given to those who use the facility frequently and the current state of the economy.

What has not been discussed, however, is another change which has already been put in place.

Effective last November, the south gate was restored as the official entrance to the recreation site.

For the last fifteen years or so, the entrance and exit of the Gardens had been at the west gate near to the CWSA parking lot. A visitors’ centre has now been built at the south gate and staff of the National Parks, Rivers and Beaches Authority have been stationed there to greet guests, assign tour guides to visitors and to ensure that guests are not overcharged. Guests are now required to exit the site through the west gate.

Director of the National Parks, Rivers and Beaches Authority Andrew Wilson has explained that the new regulations pertaining to entering and exiting the site allow for better management and interpretation of the site and allow for easier capture of visitor data. We appreciate this and fully support efforts of the NPRBA in achieving their objectives.

However, this new system of entering the Gardens at the south gate and exiting at the west gate, only considers visitors who are dropped off by tour bus or taxi, as these hired vehicles can drive around to the west gate to await the visitors when they have completed their tour.

What of locals and others who arrive in private vehicles? With the new regulations, this category of visitor has two options. The first option would see the person parking at the roadside wherever space can be found near to the south gate. After visiting, he or she must exit at the west gate, then walk about half mile, along the main road, back to the vehicle parked at the south gate. Option two would have the visitor first park just outside the west gate at the CWSA parking lot, then take the half mile trek along the main road to the south gate to enter! Surely, the Board of the National Parks, Rivers and Beaches Authority sees how impractical this is. What of a family with young children or an elderly person who wishes to take a stroll and get some fresh air?

We fully appreciate the need of the NPRBA to take control of the site. The Director explained to SEARCHLIGHT that since the relocation of the main entrance to the south gate in November, persons using the facility to exercise, and others, had been accommodated by allowing them to enter thorugh the west gate (the new exit), but since none of the Authority’s staff members are stationed at the west gate, they are not properly able to control the tour guides, resulting in some visitors being overcharged. This flexible system also hampered their data collection efforts. The decision has now been taken to allow only exit through the west gate and entrance through the south gate.

There are very few safe, green, open spaces in and around Kingstown, to which residents can retreat, to maintain health of body, mind and soul. We should be careful that in our decision making, we do not alienate locals, who have used the Gardens for decades, from the site.

The Director of the NPRBA has said that the advantages of the new regulations by far outweigh the disadvantages, and benefit the majority. He said a study undertaken last year showed that of the over 18,000 people who visited the site, locals were in the minority, with more than 11,000 being tourists.

Despite this, we ask the Board of the NPRBA to take another look at their decision and devise a method to make entrance and exit through a single gate possible for some categories of users.

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