Woodlake primes botanical gardens for replanting

(Rigo Moran)

City finishes construction on storm drain through Brave Lake Botanical Gardens, readies the gardens for a sustainable and safe renovation

WOODLAKE – The City of Woodlake has wrapped up on its flood mitigation odyssey, paving the way for a fresh, sustainable replanting of the town’s beloved botanical gardens.

After spending months working on a flood response from the 2023 storms that damaged so many homes in Woodlake, the city finished construction of a new 60-inch storm drain through the Bravo Lake Botanical Gardens. Now that the project is finished, the city is starting the reconstruction of the gardens late this summer.

“We’re making it so it’s more sustainable from a maintenance standpoint, both for the city and also for our volunteers,” City Manager Ramon Lara said.

The addition of the drain pipe required the city to dig up a large portion of the town’s botanical gardens, resulting in the renovations. The line was finished on April 26, according to Lara, but he noted there are still some clean up items that are still being taken care of as of report. 

As for the renovated gardens, he said they will have all the same amenities already there, while also enhancing them by adding sidewalks, lighting, benches and trash cans. The new design is also meant to be easier to take care of as well as include plants that are more low-maintenance and sustainable for the area.

The sitting areas in the park will also have canopies and structures to add shade until the newly planted trees grow large enough to provide extra shade.

On top of the beautiful designs, amenities and sustainable plants, another notable change is the connection of the gardens to the park. To make the area safer, the city is adding a cross walk from Woodlake City Park to the botanical gardens. Lara noted the road separating the park from the gardens has been a safety hazard for a while.

“It’s a state route,” Lara said. “They’d walk right through the road.”

He continued to explain that park visitors who wanted to see the  gardens would often cross the state road Highway 216 – also known as Naranjo Boulevard – instead of going 400 feet out of their way to cross the nearest crosswalk. Thus, to make it safer for visitors to cross the street, the city is connecting the park to the gardens via crosswalk.

“They’ll be able to cross safely.  There’ll be curb gutter sidewalks on both sides, there’ll be lighting, there’ll be flashing beacons. Safety is a big element,” Lara said.

In September 2023, the Woodlake City Council hosted a community meeting to discuss updates to Antelope Creek Park and the botanical gardens on East Naranjo. Although the updates received some pushback from residents at first, who felt that the city should have done a better job of informing them about the changes despite some outreach efforts from the city, many of them noted the design renderings presented were beautiful and enjoyed the incorporation of the culture in Woodlake.

According to Lara, the final plans closely mirrored the initial proposals, with only minor modifications following community feedback on the project’s extensive planning and outreach.

The renovation of the gardens represents a significant investment of about $9 million overall, covering excavation, design and overall refurbishment. The Sun-Gazette previously reported that the project’s expenses include approximately $4 million for a new storm drain and an additional $5 million from a grant to enhance the gardens and update some street lighting in the area.

Still, despite that hefty price tag, the gardens in Woodlake are priceless to many, especially to the local community members who have invested years of volunteer work into maintaining it. That work and community involvement is something Lara hopes will continue.

“The work that Woodlake Pride and Manuel (Jimenez) does out there is amazing. The work that Kiwanis does is amazing,” Lara said.

According to a 2019 report from The Sun-Gazette, the gardens were established through the Woodlake Pride Foundation, which was created by Jimenez. Jimenez is a retired UC Extension small farms advisor, and when he created the garden, the concept was simple: “To get kids off the television and off the streets,” while also beautifying parts of the city.

On top of all of the work done by Jimenez, Lara noted that Kiwanis has put in a lot of work to maintain the rose garden through the years.

“This garden, when it gets put in, it’ll be a lot more sustainable, it’ll be easier for us to be able to maintain. And we still want Kiwanis to be a part of it, and maybe take over like a nice little rose area out there,” Lara said.

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