UTPA awarded grant to create campus garden
Posted: 01/31/2005
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Imagine a garden on campus where you can enjoy the sunshine, eat lunch outdoors or study native fauna and flora. The University of Texas-Pan American was recently awarded a grant by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) for the formation of an Indigenous Wildscape Garden which will allow students, faculty, staff and visitors to do just that.

A groundbreaking ceremony for the garden will be held Wednesday, Feb. 9 at 10 a.m. north of the Student Services Building and east of the University's chapel.

Chelse Benham, radio and television production supervisor in the Office of University Relations and project coordinator for the grant, and Dr. Vern Vincent, former director of the tourism research center and professor, co-authored the Community Outdoor Outreach Program grant.

Nonprofit groups, non-political groups, local governments, religious groups, and other tax-exempt organizations are eligible to apply for the grant of up to $30,000. According to the TPWD, approximately $800,000 has been set aside annually to be used to introduce under-served constituents to the services, programs and facilities of the TPWD through this grant.

Benham said "perseverance pays off," as the grant was submitted three times over a year before UTPA was awarded $26,000 in January 2005.

Several UTPA staff and faculty members formed a committee to assist the grant authors with letters of support, guidance and raising $12,000 in cash and donated services. Because the garden features only indigenous plants, the committee was crucial in ensuring only plants from Hidalgo, Cameron, Willacy and Starr counties were used.

Landscape designer Rod Russell-Ides of Dallas, Texas agreed to design the garden on a pro-bono basis. He recently built a replica in Houston of the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes, a reproduction of the most famous shrine to the Virgin Mary, located in Lourdes in southern France.

"I think the garden will develop enormous school spirit," Benham said. "It will also be a beautiful site for University tours, and will be open to the community for free."

The plants in the garden will be identified with name tags so onlookers will have the opportunity to learn about indigenous plants and wildlife. The garden will serve as a place for bird watchers to see migratory birds and will have telescopes available for spectators to look at insects, butterflies and other fauna. Benham said the garden is also a model for water conservation since it uses indigenous plants which require less water than bringing in plants from outside the area.

The garden is being created to serve students of all ages, from K-12 to University students she said. The biology and anthropology departments are being afforded small plots to install their own indigenous plant selections. In addition they may also want to study many of the native plants used in folk medicine, which will also be in the garden.

"The city of Edinburg will also benefit because it will effectively be a tourist site," Benham said.

The 1.5 acre garden will take approximately two months to physically create, as the composition of the land will be altered into rolling mounds and contain a water feature. The project will be completed by the UTPA grounds maintenance employees. Benham is hoping the garden will be completed in time for the spring commencement ceremonies. The water feature will comprise a circular shallow pool and a moon-shaped bog area that houses plant life.

The grant covers supplies, plants, bedding, travel expenses and educational materials. Additional funds are still needed for the water feature, statuary in the center of the water feature, telescope kiosks, benches, solar lights and pathways. Benham hopes to raise $36,000 in addition to the grant funds for those elements by selling personalized bricks for $50 each to be placed in the garden.

The Women's Group, an informal group of University women comprised of staff and faculty who meet to network and participate in community service projects, has also shown support and will be promoting the garden and helping with fundraising efforts.

The garden has received support from several environmental groups in the community including the TWPD, Texas Forest Service, Hidalgo County Extension Agent-Horticulture, Friends of the Wildlife Corridor, Texas Naturalist Society, RGV Nature Coalition, Valley Nature Center and Native Plant Project. On campus, the Anthropology Club, the Student Government Association, the Psychology Club and faculty from the biology department have pledged support as well.

For more information about the groundbreaking, volunteering or fundraising, call Benham at 956/316-7996.