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Fernwood reopens, working to bounce back from pandemic

NILES, Mich. -- A beloved Michiana garden is officially back open to the public.

Visitors have been coming to Fernwood Botanical Gardens since it was established in 1964, but COVID-19 has had a heavy financial strain on the business.

Even though Fernwood sits on 105 acres of land, it’s a non-profit — unlike most public parks. And just like zoos and museums, they fall under cultural institutions, causing them shut their doors for the past three months.

“We did lose a historical amount of revenue,” said Elaine Rowland, Director of Development and External Relations.

Fernwood has more than just its gardens for visitors to enjoy — the restaurant, gift shop and summer programs are all sources of revenue that keep the garden going.

All of which, have been closed due to COVID-19 since march.

“We had to be closed for 77 days,” said Rowland. “We are a non-profit public garden, so we had to be closed.”

While the gardens are now open to all, they’re reopening in phases to protect staff and visitors. For nearly two weeks, the garden was only open to members.

“The time that we were open for our members was really good for us and our staff to get our feet wet on some of the changes that we have made,” said Rowland.

The restaurant and gift shop will remain closed for the time being. All summer programs have also been cancelled.

Not only has Fernwood lost money from that, they would also be preparing for their annual fundraiser this weekend.

“What we had to do in light of everything that’s going on is reimagine our annual fundraiser,” said Rowland. “Because those funds are so important to Fernwood, now more than ever.”

In place of their garden party, Fernwood will hold a virtual, 10-day fundraiser where herbs, succulents and other plants — all crafted by local volunteers — will be auctioned off.

They’re hoping to get the community involved — so Fernwood can live on for years to come.

“We really understand the importance of Fernwood, nature and the outdoors and how much it’s valued by our visitors,” said Rowland.

A registration link for the garden party fundraiser will be available on Fernwood’s website Thursday evening.

Visitors are asked to wear a mask when interacting with staff for the time being. You’re also asked to buy tickets ahead of time either online or over the phone.

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