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TJ Jerke, Forum News Service, Published July 14 2013

International Peace Garden visitors on the rise

DUNSEITH, N.D. - The International Peace Garden is by its very nature a quiet place.

But there have been some big changes at the 2,300-acre botanical garden along the Canadian border. You just may not have heard about them.

“When we look at North Dakota, we promote cowboys and Indians and shopping in Fargo and Grand Forks,” said Doug Hevenor, the garden’s chief executive officer. “But there are so many more things to see and do in the state than just drive down to Medora.”

An iconic image for the Peace Garden has been the floral clock that greets visitors. But there also is the 22-ton peace tower, a memorial made from steel girders from the World Trade Center, the recently added North American Game Warden Museum and an expansion of the conservatory to include 7,000 cacti.

Most of the new projects were funded and built by international organizations that often meet at the garden.

The most significant development may have been the change in 2011 to become a year-round facility instead of closing for the winter.

Hevenor said recent renovations, additions and being open year-round have rejuvenated the garden, which now draws about 180,000 visitors per year, about 30,000 more than as a seasonal site.

The improvements have been made with a lot of help from the state.

Just more than $1 million was put toward the garden during the 2011 North Dakota legislative session. Included in that was $242,000 from the general fund for the state’s share to build an expansion onto the conservatory for a cactus collection.

The new 7,000-square-foot addition will add to the current 3,000-square-foot facility and hold more than 7,000 cacti grown and collected by garden board member Don Vitko.

“It’s a remarkable collection the public needs to come see and enjoy,” Hevenor said. “Everyone can grow a cactus, but here you have something somebody has spent 40-50 years of his life loving and now everyone can enjoy it.”

The 2013 Legislature provided $2.2 million, with $1.25 million in one-time matching funds for capital projects for an engineering study and repair of the peace tower and other infrastructure improvements.

Hevenor said the small, outdated sewage and water systems need upgrades.

“We have to address that and change out some of these pipes to bring it up to new millenium needs,” Hevenor said.

The Peace Garden relies on private donations, gate receipts and any funding it can get from North Dakota and Manitoba, with the two countries splitting the funding in half.

But Winnipeg resident and board member Charles Thomsen said the garden doesn’t have a fundraising arm to help match North Dakota’s contributions, so it may be difficult to match North Dakota’s one-time funding.

Thomsen said the Canadian government contributed to the funding of the interpretive center, dormitories at the International Music Camp and drainage and flood mitigation projects.

“Right now North Dakota is very wealthy,” he said. “In the past, Manitoba or the federal government has given some grants, but it all depends on who can afford it.”

Thomsen said the future is bright for the garden. “I think a lot of people have been pleasantly surprised when they travel and visit the garden for the first time.”

But like his American counterparts, he believes it’s a challenge getting the word out about the garden.

Rep. Dick Anderson, R-Willow City, said the garden is in a unique spot, but very seldom does the state mention it.

“You don’t hear nearly the promotion and advertising as you do some other things,” he said, adding that it should be promoted more.

‘Tranquil place’

The president of the board of directors for the Peace Garden calls the site a work of art.

“It’s an expression of something we cannot do ourselves,” said Tyrone Langager, a retired physician from Minot and board member for 13 years. “You feel that you’re in the presence of an ultimate accomplishment.”

Hevenor says the garden is the most peaceful place imaginable.

“Everyone should take the opportunity to come to a place that exudes peace and serenity,” he said. “If you come here, it’s a tranquil place, it really hits you.”

Sunday will mark the 81st anniversary of the garden’s dedication in 1932, when a cairn, or mound of stones, was first built with a flag from each country as a monument to celebrate the friendly relationship between Canada and the United States.

More than 1,400 acres were donated by the province of Manitoba, and more than 800 acres were donated by North Dakota to make the garden what it is today, boasting an elaborate display of more than 150,000 flowers every year.

Hevenor pointed out that federal legislation has been passed to assure visitors can return to the United States with only a photo identification.

“Nobody is waiting outside my window to get back to America,” Hevenor joked. “We have a very good relationship with Border Patrol and Customs and Immigration. If we see something suspicious, we work with them to check it out.”

From his home in Canada, Thomsen said the original vision of the Peace Garden continues 81 years later.

“It has become an institutional symbol for the relationship between the U.S. and Canada,” he said. “It is this idea that there is a general trust and cooperation between the two nations, and there is botanical interlude on the border that represents that.”