Tohono Chul Park celebrating its 25th - The Explorer: El Sol

Tohono Chul Park celebrating its 25th

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Posted: Tuesday, March 16, 2010 11:00 pm | Updated: 8:14 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

Tohono Chul Park is kicking off its 25th anniversary observance on Sunday, March 28 with its Silver Spring Celebration, when the new Sonoran Seasons Garden will be formally dedicated.

The celebration also features an array of activities, including music, art, and food and beverages, all with local flavor.

As part of its annual major fund-raising event, guests will bid on special silent auction items comprised of "all things of the garden," from plants and trees to garden furniture and unique plant arrangements.

The Sonoran Seasons Garden, built in the center of the 49-acre park, features plants indicative of the five seasons in the Sonoran Desert — winter, spring, dry summer, monsoon summer and fall. Each of the five gardens within the Sonoran Seasons Garden contains desert plants that bloom during that particular season.

Richard Wilson, who with his late wife Jean founded the park, will be on hand to dedicate the Sonoran Seasons Garden.

Jo Falls, Tohono Chul's director of public programs and visitor services, said the park's board of directors is looking at developing a strategic plan for where to take the park over the next 25 years.

"The park went through major changes in 2001 with the adoption of its master plan," Falls said. "We repurposed our parking areas to the front of the park and put in new entrance gates and a corner monument. People now have a beautiful view of Pusch Ridge and the Catalina mountains as they drive into the park."

In addition, Falls said, three parking lots were removed from the middle of the park and were developed into the Sin Agua Garden, the Desert Living Courtyard and the Sonoran Seasons Garden.

"Now we're looking at where we want to go for the future, not so much in terms of the physical plant, but in our programming and offerings to the Tucson region," Falls said. "We want to define what our niche is and where we will focus our energies."

Tohono Chul Park's story goes back to 1966, when the Wilsons began buying parcels of desert that would form the park's core, ultimately owning 37 acres. Two years later they purchased the parcel containing the hacienda-style West House, known today as the Tohono Chul Park Tea Room, operated by Chef Albert Hall of Acacia.

In 1979, the Wilsons purchased the Haunted Bookshop on Northern Avenue, on what would become the eastern boundary of the park, then began making trails through their property. In 1980 they received a citation from the Tucson Audubon Society for saving desert green space and opening it to the public.

Five years later, on April 19, 1985, Tohono Chul Park was formally dedicated. Eleven acres to the north of the park were added in 1995 and when the Haunted Bookshop closed in 1997, the park's final acre was secured, bringing its total to 49 acres.

Tohono Chul Park is funded primarily through membership, admission fees, donations, grants, programming fees, and retail sales through the Tea Room, greenhouse and retail shop. It has an annual operating budget of approximately $2 million.

Besides the gardens and the Tea Room, the park also has three art and exhibition galleries — one in the Education Center and two in the Exhibit House.

"We feel we offer an incredible connection with the desert and understand how people connect with the landscape and nature, as well as how they express that connection through art and cultural walkways," Falls pointed out. "We're looking to focus on those elements that make the park special and unique, and continue to make them available to people."

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