A plan for growing tourism is blooming in Prescott
PRESCOTT - Bringing tourists to town is among the top priorities of municipalities throughout this region, and there is one particular kind of tourist attraction that is increasing in popularity.
Dave Cybulski and Anne Weir, co-chairs of the 1000 Islands and Rideau Canal Garden Trail, made a presentation to Prescott Town Council on September 26 that outlined just how important garden tourism has become for communities in this region, Prescott included.
The 2nd annual Garden Trail promoted 14 area gardens throughout the summer and invited visitors from near and far to visit, and indeed they did. Though the final figures for 2016 aren't yet in, preliminary counts suggest this summer was an improvement on the trail's inaugural season, which itself proved very popular.
"We're seeing an increasing number of visitors to our gardens," said Cybulski, whose Garden of Hope in Maitland is one of the attractions on the tour. "We're seeing a huge uptick."
The idea of the tour actually began with Cybulski and his wife, Colleen, whose garden features more than 5000 perennials, grasses and flowering shrubs - all carefully selected to attract birds, bees and butterflies. Over the course of three years, the Garden of Hope became more and more well-known, and in one summer alone attracted more than 1000 visitors.
"It told us there was a real need for this sort of thing in Eastern Ontario," said Cybulski.
The United Counties of Leeds and Grenville then got on board and helped put together the 1000 Islands and Rideau Canal Garden Trail, which, in its first year, attracted between 300 and 1000 individual visitors to each of the participating gardens. Already, the local garden trail is creating a name for itself among garden aficionados and horticultural clubs from as far away as Quebec and Toronto.
In fact, this past summer, 25 members of a Quebec horticultural club stayed for five days and four nights in Prescott and area, which, according to Weir, contributed considerably to the local economy.
"The economic impact was very significant," she said. "And that was as a direct result of this interest in gardens."
It was important to the organizers of the garden trail that the attraction grow and change and remain fresh enough to attract an increasing number of new visitors while keeping the interest of people who have been here before.
"We're already seeing repeat visits, and that's fantastic," says Weir.
Interestingly, about 75 percent of visitors to the garden trail this summer, according to figures provided by Weir, traveled between one and three hours to come to the area, which means the popularity of the attraction is spreading.
One of the most delightful gardens on the tour is Prescott's own Shakespearean Gardens, and both Cybulski and Weir praised the town, town staff and the many volunteers who maintain it. But they also offered a few suggestions as to how it could be made better.
"The committee wants your garden to be the cornerstone of the garden trail," says Cybulski.
Many of the members of the volunteer committee that maintains the Shakespearean Gardens were in the gallery at Monday's meeting, and heard that additional signage, a few busts of the playwright himself and the careful clustering of specific types of plants could all improve on an already remarkable garden creation.
"They are a very dedicated and enthusiastic group," said Cybulski. "The committee has done a tremendous job, but there are still things to be done."
Council was appreciative of the compliments and agreed that Prescott is well-positioned to exploit the popularity of garden tourism. The mayor, Brett Todd, singled out for particular praise not only the many volunteers who helped make the Shakespearean Gardens so beautiful but also town employees Phil Burton and Katie Allard, who have put a great deal of time, effort and expertise into beautifying the town's natural attractions.
"I want to make sure I credit those two in particular," said Todd.
There is also an opportunity for more people to get involved, since the workload only increases as the gardens get bigger and better.
"The gardens improve every year and there's more to see, but when there's more to see, there's more to do," said Councilor Lee McConnell, adding that more hands willing to help out would be most welcome.
"More volunteers are always appreciated."
There are also opportunities this coming year for new gardens to be added to the trail. Of course, they have to meet a certain standard of quality, but anyone who thinks his or her garden is up to the mark is welcome to contact trail organizers about being added to this summer's trail.
More information about the 1000 Islands and Rideau Canal Garden Trail and whom to contact about prospective additions to the trail can be found online at gardentrail.1000islandsandrideaucanal.com.