McCrory Gardens builds fence to protect against vandalism


McCrory Gardens has always been owned and operated by SDSU. It has been around for 50 years and was developed as a horticulture garden and arboretum. Until now, the garden has been unfenced and free to the public.  A fence is currently being installed around the garden, and beginning in the spring, an admission fee will be charged.

Options for entrance to the garden will include an annual membership fee or a daily admission charge.

Fees will begin when McCrory Gardens opens for spring, said Barry Dunn, dean of the College of Agriculture and Biological Sciences. Admission will be $6 for adults 16 and over and $3 for students 6-15. SDSU students with a valid ID will not pay an entrance fee. Yearly Friends of McCrory Gardens memberships can also be purchased starting at $30 and include free entrance to the gardens and discounts on classes and in the gift shop. Friends of McCrory Gardens become a member of the reciprocal admission program through the American Horticulture Society, which allows them reduced or free admission to other botanical gardens and arboretums. Hours will be 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday-Saturday and 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Sundays.

The primary entrance to the gardens will be through the McCrory Gardens Education & Visitor Center during normal operation hours. The main entrance of McCrory Gardens is now located at 631 22nd Ave. 

The South Dakota Arboretum, located on the north side of McCrory Gardens, will remain unfenced and free.

The fence and the idea behind it have been in the works for many years, according to David Graper, director of McCrory Gardens. When creating the master plan, there was a primary recommendation that the gardens be fenced. Graper said that the fence will primarily protect the garden and set it off from being thought of as just another park. McCrory Gardens is looking into bringing traveling exhibits and more elaborate gardens, but these aren’t options until the garden is fenced off.

The fence, which Dunn said was paid for in large part by a generous anonymous donation, is projected to be complete by the end of the month but, depending on the weather, may not be complete until the first week of November.

In 2011, the university and the College of Agriculture and Biological Sciences created a strategic plan for the garden with a consulting firm, Dunn said. They looked at other horticulture gardens affiliated with universities and came up with a plan for McCrory. The plan has been discussed and presented widely throughout SDSU and the community, Dunn said.

The consulting firm that worked on the creation of the strategic plan was surprised that the garden wasn’t fenced already and it was the only university-owned garden they were aware of without a fence, Dunn said. The consulting firm was also unaware of any gardens of this kind that didn’t charge.

The cost for the entrance fee was determined by looking at similar gardens, such as Reiman Gardens, owned by Iowa State University, and also the local marketplace and needs the garden has.

Reiman Gardens is fenced in and charges a rate for visitors by age. Entrance fees for Reiman Gardens are $8 for adults ages 18 to 64, $7 for seniors ages 65 and up, $4 for kids ages 4 to 17, and free for kids ages 3 and under. They also offer group rates and membership packages.

Dunn said that during the last couple years of discussion, there have been people who say they are disappointed that access to the gardens will be limited.

“When we explain what the admission fee will go toward, most people understand,” Dunn said. “However, some are disappointed and say they will not visit the garden anymore. I respect that.”

Dunn said they are three main purposes for installing the fence.

First, to protect the assets of the garden. Going forward, the garden will be much more dependent on private donors, and the garden wants to protect their investment. 

 “If we are going to ask people for support, we want to show them we can protect their investment from vandalism,” Dunn said.

Second, is public safety. So far, there have been no major incidents where harm has been brought to visitors. 

“We are fortunate that so far no one has been hurt or attacked, but we can’t protect visitors 24 hours a day,” Dunn said.

The third reason for the fence according to Dunn is to generate operation funds. Currently, McCrory Gardens is operated with minimal donations from the public but is mainly funded as a line item in the SDSU budget. It then falls on the College of Ag and Bio for support.

The entrance fee will go toward paying for operation and upkeep of the garden, Graper said. As the garden is continually changing, it requires extra labor and personnel power. Since McCrory Gardens is considered revenue generating, operations must be paid by non-state dollars. The money will additionally go toward paying a maintenance staff for the garden and upkeep of the building.

“I think the gardens should look at other fundraising measures, not limiting access to the gardens with a fence and a fee,” said Brookings resident Kathy Gustafson.

McCrory Gardens is a special collection of plants, not a park for recreational activities such as throwing a Frisbee, Graper said. “The garden is meant for education of nature and horticulture. It is filled with a special collection of plants.”

There have been negative comments about the fence and fee, but once people understand the reasons, they understand the benefits, Graper said.

However, some community members, such as Gustafson, are still opposed to the fence and the entrance fee.

“I have not heard a convincing argument as to why the fence and fee are the best solution,” Gustafson said. “The fee will deter me. I have supported the gardens and frequently utilized them for a casual, quick walkthrough. I won’t be doing that for $6 per time.”

Visitors coming from out of town pay for other attractions in the area that they are interested in, Graper said.

“It’s no different than people coming to attend sporting events or concerts,” Graper said. “We hope people that enjoy McCrory Gardens will continue to support it.”