ELKHART, Ind. – Over two decades, leaders in the Elkhart community have worked to transform what was once an unkempt Superfund site into a regional destination.
In 2002, the Elkhart Rotary Club set out to create a community garden atop the city’s Main Street wellfield — a 36-acre plot of land that, among 13 undergrounds wells, supplies 70% of the city’s drinking water.
The club envisioned thematic gardens, event spaces, a visitors center and more to revitalize land that at one time, decades ago, was targeted and treated for groundwater contamination. Since remedied, the land was handed off in 2005 to a not-for-profit board of directors.
Wellfield Botanic Gardens, as it’s now known, features more than 20 gardens, including a Children’s Garden, a Japanese-inspired Island Garden and a recently opened Peace Garden. The organization has fulfilled about 85% of the Rotary Club’s initial master plan and, now averaging about 75,000 visitors a year, is entering its most significant phase of growth yet.
“We currently have no indoor facilities,” said Eric Garton, Wellfield’s Robert and Peggy Weed executive director. “We get a lot of requests for special events, including weddings, in the months of November, December, January, February, March and April. Those are really difficult things to do in our current setting.”
Foundations are being set this fall for a new, 12,000-square-foot visitors center. The gardens’ current, small visitors cottage will be moved across the grounds this winter, making way for 100 much needed parking spaces. And, in January, crews will begin work on a 500-person open air pavilion.
The projects together, funded through private investment, cost $14 million. An additional $3 million endowment is being sought to support operations, which are expected to add about $110,000 to the gardens’ overall annual budget.