The University of Alberta Botanic Garden is opening its gates to children and students for free this fall.
“We know what a tough time families have been having, especially kids,” education co-ordinator Jennine Pedersen said. “We want the garden to be a space where they can come and explore nature.”
Read more: University of Alberta Botanic Garden reopens amid ongoing COVID-19 pandemic
Pedersen said while the move is temporary, it’s hoped one day to be permanent.
“This is actually part of a larger dream we have,” she said. “We’re looking for partners to reach out to us, who maybe want to be involved in making this dream possible and having kids at the garden free forever.”
The ultimate goal is that all the garden’s children’s programs — like school field trips — will be free and accessible to all kids.
With borders locked down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many Alberta families have stayed closer to home this summer. The garden normally opens to visitors in the spring, but this year didn’t until June 1 — and Pedersen said it has been busy.
“We’ve had pretty good attendance over the summer. This is a great, safe area. Lots of space to spread out,” she said.
While some programming such as field trips had to be cancelled due to COVID-19, the garden is looking to develop new programming that’s safe, fun, engaging and gets kids back outside.
“Having kids connect with nature is more important than ever,” Pedersen said.
“Nature teaches you so many lessons that you can’t learn on a screen. So it allows you to learn problem-solving skills and creativity skills and you just learn about the wonder that’s around you.”
Read more: U of A Botanic Garden closing early for entry pavilion construction
The gardens have seen several major upgrades in recent years, including the construction of a new entry pavilion structure over the past year, which included a new admissions area, gift shop, concession and outdoor seating area.
The opening of the Aga Khan Garden two years ago also resulted in twice as many visitors as normal during the first two months.
Read more: New U of A Botanic Garden saw spike in attendance; Aga Khan in town for inauguration
The 11-acre garden has 12 water features, about 665,000 kilograms of granite, fruit orchards and more than 25,000 trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals and wetland plants.
Also popular at the facility is the the five-acre garden Kurimoto Japanese Garden — which opened in 1990 and is created in the kaiyou (strolling garden) style but filled with plants hardy to Alberta’s northern climate.
“We have 240 acres of beautiful, beautiful garden to explore,” Pedersen said. “Beautiful ponds, flower beds, trees, lots of insects, squirrels.
“It’s just a great place to enjoy with a family.”
While the tropical butterfly showhouse is also a popular