Rockford Park District leaders reflect on visions for new conservatory

By Susan Johnson
Copy Editor

With the grand opening of the new Nicholas Conservatory & Gardens scheduled for this weekend, The Rock River Times asked Rockford Park District leaders, past and present, for their thoughts on this new venture. We talked to former executive director Webbs Norman, and the man who succeeded him, Tim Dimke. Both were asked the same three questions.

TRRT: What are your thoughts on the new Conservatory?

Webbs Norman: “In the short term, I think it’s a really neat crown jewel that you can add to the many other facilities that the Park District provides to the citizens.”

Tim Dimke: “This is certainly a major accomplishment for the whole Rockford community and Winnebago County to have such an amazing asset and attraction right in the heart of our community. Over 1,600 people in our community have made donations or invested in this facility, which shows how important the Sinnissippi riverfront, Sinnissippi Park and the Conservatory and Lagoon area is to all the citizens in our community. We certainly expect that every one of our citizens will visit this facility that the Nicholas family has so generously led in fund-raising efforts to produce.”

TRRT: What do you see as the Conservatory’s role in the future of the Rockford community?

Norman: “I think it’s an exciting role to begin with. I think that it’s bringing essential pride [to Rockford]. I’ve talked to people who’ve been in the facility, and it’s the kind of facility they say they want to invite their out-of-town friends and relatives to. It will add to feeling better about the quality of life in our community. It will draw people from comfortably a 50- to 75-mile radius, and it will contribute to our economy from that standpoint. Overall, I think it will have a very positive impact, and hopefully, it is a springboard to doing other valuable things in the community that will enhance the quality of our life.”

Dimke: “The overall role of the Conservatory from a major standpoint is that it is one more tremendous asset that the citizens of our community can be very proud of and make them value their whole community and make it a great asset. … This specific area is going to be such a tremendous facility for people to visit and spend their leisure time. It will be tremendous as an educational component for all the community, but especially our youth, in energy usage, conservation, moderation of energy, green practices, and in the area of plants, horticulture and conservation, and green and gardening practices. It will have many components, both in recreation and in education.”

TRRT: Do you think that a marketing campaign should be put together to co-promote the Conservatory with Anderson Gardens, Klehm Arboretum, Severson Dells, Tinker Cottage, and La Paloma Garden (if available)?

Norman: “I think that Tim Dimke, Jody Carroll, and Ruth Miller, who is the program manager, they’ve been looking into all these possibilities for quite some time. I don’t know exactly where they are, but we all believe they provide some unique possibilities. For example, Severson Dells doesn’t quite fit the same format as the Arboretum does. I know they’re looking at those things. Tinker, of course, is in the process of developing its long-range plans, which include expanding the gardens. I don’t think that they’re probably up to the point they’d like to be, but I think if they keep expanding their master plan to include acquiring some additional buildings and being able to redevelop the land [as it was] before Mr. Tinker had to sell it, I think that once that’s done, that will be another opportunity to provide a package program or a coordinated program between the Conservatory and all the other facilities mentioned.”

Dimke: “Yes, and add the Nygren Wetland to that. It’s a tremendous facility in the Rockton-Roscoe area, owned by the Natural Land Institute. I would say absolutely, and it’s already under way. A comprehensive program has been developed to market all of these assets, not only to our local citizens but to the many, many visitors we expect to have from outside our area. We expect to have 40,000 visitors a year just to the Conservatory, contributing over $8 million a year to the economy. As part of that, we are already marketing all the assets you mentioned — it’s many tour groups and companies outside our community. They are organized groups that go around the country. We are already marketing them. When you go into the lobby of the Conservatory, we have an electronic kiosk that will be available, starting Saturday and Sunday. It has information all about the assets that you mentioned — maps and how to get there, and we are also working closely with the Rockford Area Convention & Visitors Bureau on this whole marketing strategy.”

From the Oct. 26-Nov. 1, 2011, issue

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