Change is coming for one of Tulare County’s natural treasures, the Bravo Lake Botanical Garden. Founders and stewards Manuel and Olga Jimenez, who founded the nonprofit Woodlake Pride group, are working with City of Woodlake officials to allow a smooth transition as they step away from the daily duties required to maintain an attraction valued by residents and visitors alike.
“We hope to leave the Garden and its legacy in good hands,” said Olga. “This is a safe environment where everyone can enjoy the beauty and diversity of the plant life. We get visitors not only from across the nation, but from all over the world.”
Manuel and Olga Jimenez have served the citizens of Woodlake for more than 25 years, leading beautification projects with kids and volunteers. In 1999, Greg Collins, Woodlake’s city planner, secured a Rails-to-Trails grant, and the city bought the 13.9-acre, linear 1.2-mile property.
This action, coupled with Manuel’s vision, planted the seed and the Bravo Lake Botanical Garden was born.
Volunteer effort was integral from the inception.
“Our plan was to grow kids while planting gardens,” said Manuel. “Even after the kids meet their community service requirements, they’d come back to help and learn.”
With a $1 million Measure R grant to last 30 years, city officials must balance maintaining the Garden and other roadside projects.
“The City will provide available resources to guarantee that the garden is enjoyed by residents,” said Ramon Lara, city administrator. “The city is in the early stages of taking over the garden and developing a sustainability plan for it. Once that is developed, it will be shared with the public.”
At a meeting Wednesday, Aug. 23, representatives from Tulare County Office of Education, Monrovia Nursery, L.E. Cook Co. (nursery), Proteus, Tulare County Parks and Recreation, and others allied with Woodlake Pride to brainstorm ideas to raise funding. Volunteer administrator
Marsha Ingrao said that the dozens of ideas presented are viable and worth pursuing. Endowments from large sponsors would take pressure off the City and bring more options to the table.
The August 23 meeting also featured a presentation by Carmita Pena, coordinator of College and Career Programs at Woodlake High School, who emphasized the impact volunteerism at the Garden has had on the youth of Woodlake. About 25 students a year have been supervised, counseled, and cared for by Olga and Manuel.
Another meeting was held the following Wednesday, Aug. 30, to talk strategy with various experts: Joan Cuadra and Shawna Rodriguez from Proteus, Chuck House from Sequoia Hills Stables, Cindy Quezada who has worked for the State Department, Glen Billington from WUSD, Manuel Jimenez, and Marsha Ingrao.
Plans for budgets, an educational curriculum for teachers, publicizing the Garden for tours, and finding workers temporarily were among the topics discussed. House also presented research he has done on successful botanical gardens across the country.
It is estimated that after the transition is made, $250,000 per year and 80 man-hours per week will be necessary to keep the Garden thriving.
Optimally, the Garden would have battery-operated or solar-powered timers so water could be distributed efficiently without manual labor. Detailed signage and lighting could be added for educational and safety purposes.
“We like what the City is doing in general,” added Manuel. “We just hope we can arrange the manpower to ensure the kids of the future and the general public can enjoy the Garden in the long-term.”
The Bravo Lake Botanical Garden is unique in California, not only because it showcases rare agricultural flora from across the globe, but also because of the community spirit it embodies. And it’s that enthusiasm that’s needed to ensure the BLBG continues to grow and blossom.