New McCrory Gardens visitor center testifies to SDSU agriculture

Julia DeCook

McCrory Gardens has long been a Brookings and SDSU staple. Its beautiful trees, flowers and overall harmonious atmosphere have been a feather in both SDSU and Brookings’ cap since it was established in 1964.

After many months of construction that slowly morphed into a beautiful building, the privately funded, 9,350 square foot McCrory Gardens Visitor and Education Center is now complete and open to the public.

“The Education and Visitor’s Center is going to serve as a gateway to the already existing gardens and the arboretum,” said Barry Dunn, Dean of the College of Agricultural and Biological Sciences. “It will also promote the [College of Agricultural and Biological Sciences] to the rest of the university.”

Playing an educational role, the center will be of the utmost importance in educating groups as varied as public school field trips to an Extension Master Gardener’s workshop.

“The SDSU Extension program certifies and trains volunteers across the state as ‘Master Gardeners,’ and our experts train others,” Dunn said. “The program also helps us to leverage ourselves [the college and university] in communities all across South Dakota.”

The center provides the Extension program with classroom space for courses, workshops and educational goals to be achieved. According to Dunn, the purpose of Extension is to ‘extend’ SDSU to as many communities as possible.

The center will not only play a vital role in educating the public, but it will also provide a functional purpose as well. Within its walls are two meeting rooms, a great hall, an information and help desk, and a gift shop. People can reserve the center for events such as weddings and receptions, conferences, anniversaries, graduations, family reunions and other special events.

“The center is going to be an important place of celebration and is vital to engaging the public,” Dunn said. “There have already been many weddings, and there are reservations for the space well into next year.”

With regard to what big events can be expected in the upcoming months, Dunn added that there is a Master Plan in place for the McCrory Gardens. Thousands of Master Gardeners across the state will gather at the center for a Master Gardener’s conference in September. The already existing viticulture exhibits in the center will also change.

“The viticulture exhibits will be on many topics and offer a hands-on learning experience,” Dunn said. “In the future, there will also be an exhibit that will show how agriculture and viticulture and gardening have progressed, from the days of Native Americans to the pioneer settlers to present day.”

The Gardens and the center gateway will also showcase what varieties of plants do well in the harsh South Dakota climate.

The new building is accessible by a new entrance on 22nd Ave in Brookings. It is LEED certified, having used recycled materials in its construction and offering priority parking to hybrid vehicles. All new buildings must be LEED certified to some degree, but the center is one of the only buildings in South Dakota to receive the “Silver” LEED-certified “green” designation.