New Discovery Gardens creates space in forest to enjoy, learn

The James Family Discovery Gardens celebrates its grand opening Saturday, June 3.

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The James Family Discovery Gardens celebrates its grand opening Saturday, June 3.

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The Highlands Center for Natural History invites the community to the Grand Opening of the James Family Discovery Gardens. The native botanical garden will open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, June 3. Admission on weekends is $5 adults, $2 for children ages 5-12, free for ages younger than 5, and free to members. The Gardens is free Tuesday through Friday, and closed on Mondays.

“June is a perfect time to visit. The flowers are in bloom and nature is lush,” said Tom Agostino, Highlands marketing and communications coordinator. “Nature changes, so every season, it will be different.”

Each Saturday and Sunday, naturalists and docents will be present at Discovery Stations to lead walks and guide visitors’ exploration of the 7-acre center.

A paved wheelchair-accessible pathway follows the creek and winds through the forest. Benches provide a place in the shade to rest and enjoy the birds and sound of the rustling trees. Children have their own area to play on boulders, balance beams and a sand box.

“The Highlands Center is more about teaching than an amusement park. But we combined a little bit of both. We wanted to make this an attraction, so if you were coming up for the weekend, it would be on your checklist,” Agostino said.

Like other botanical gardens, this one provides information on how to choose and grow drought-tolerant plants. It also contains a rainwater harvesting system.

The ramada, or indeed, the entire Gardens is available for wedding or private events.

Among the stations are the demonstration gardens with native plants, Riparian Reflections, a ramada with two nearby Ethno Botanical Gardens, a small playground called Forest Play, Chaparral Hillsides, Graceful Grasslands, Woodland Wonders, Secret Nook, and Gathering Circle.

“It’s nature, so it’s wonderful for everyone,” Agostino said.

Interactive “learning circles” take place on weekends when naturalists will facilitate interactive stations on topics such as animals, plants and geology.

Special programs for preschoolers and kindergarteners are offered on the third Saturday of the month. Kids’ Craft Tables take place every other Saturday. Groups also can arrange for their own privately-led Gardens experience for a reasonable fee.

In keeping with the Center’s conservation efforts, both the ramada and Kiwanis Amphitheater, at the entrance to the Discovery Gardens, have rainwater harvesting storage tanks.

The Harold James Family Trust donated $150,000 to the Gardens project, which cost about $496,000 total to build.

Other contributors included J. W. Kieckhefer Foundation, Margaret T. Morris Foundation, Prescott Kiwanis Club, Prescott Yavapai Indian Tribe, Prescott Area Association of Realtors, Hike Shack, Arizona Community Foundation of Yavapai County, an anonymous family foundation, and more than 100 individual donors. Project partners include Prescott National Forest, Landscapes for Life, Yavapai County Master Gardeners and architect Robert Burford.