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The International Peace Garden holds 85 years of attractions, surprises

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The International Peace Gardens are home to pollinator gardens that showcase flower and plant varities common to the area as well as fruits and vegetables used in its cafe. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald2 / 8
International Peace Gardens horticulturist Johannes Olwage details myriad cactuses in the Vitko Xeric collection at the Interpretative Centre conservatory on Tuesday, June 19, 2018. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald3 / 8
With an 18 foot diameter, the floral clock at the International Peace Gardens is a popular attraction for guests. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald4 / 8
Tim Chapman, CEO for the International Peace Gardens, walks through the historic lodge built by the Civilian Conservation Corps on Tuesday, June 19, 2018. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald5 / 8
The Sunken Gardens feature a fountain pool and landscaped areas with thousands of plants. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald6 / 8
Constructed from Tyndall limestone native to Manitoba, the Chapel of Peace at the International Peace Gardens has quotations by people involved in peace engraved on its walls. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald7 / 8
Guests enter and exit the International Peace Gardens entrance on Tuesday, June 19, 2018. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald8 / 8

INTERNATIONAL PEACE GARDEN -- When visitors pass through the gates of the International Peace Garden, they enter a space undefined by international borders, one that is, instead, a collaborative ground between the United States and Canada.  

“What we represent is an opportunity to bring both sides together,” said Tim Chapman, CEO of the Peace Garden since May.

The International Peace Garden’s 2,400 acres, straddling the border about 110 miles northeast of Minot, opened to visitors in 1932 and welcomes an average of 150,000 people a year, according to Chapman.

He noted the garden’s upcoming 85th anniversary, which will be celebrated July 14-15, presents an opportunity to bring government officials from North Dakota, Manitoba and the U.S. and Canada together.

“For the 85th we’ve invited almost everybody we can from the state and the province and we’re inviting both heads of state,” Chapman said.

“That might be a long shot, but if they both could come that’d be great. The grounds and the garden is all about opening up that dialogue and talking about peace.”

Inside the garden

At the entrance, visitors are greeted by one of the very first additions to the park, a stone cairn that serves as a tribute to the friendship between the countries and an 18-foot flower clock, composed of 2,500 flowers and donated to the garden by the Bulova watch company in 1966.

Once inside the Peace Garden, visitors can roam freely between the Canadian and American sides, and there is much to both see and do.

On the more developed American side of the garden sits what Chapman said is a major year-round attraction, the Interpretive Center. The glass structure is an open and airy 2009 addition to the grounds, home to a conference center, gift shop, an up-and-coming library, the Border Walk Cafe and a conservatory that houses around 6,000 cactuses and succulents.  

Inside the green house, cactuses reaching 26 feet tall nearly scrape the ceiling.

A native of Namibia and the collection’s primary caretaker, Johannes Olwage, has been tending to the plants since 2010, when they were donated by Don Vitko of Minot, and spent two years learning how to care for them.

The collection includes succulent and cactus species native to North America, South America and Africa.

Just steps outside the conservatory lie the formal gardens, the pinnacle of the garden, which feature a water fountain and more than 100,000 annual flowers.

“It was the vision of landscape architects as a way to acknowledge the peaceful existence between the U.S. and Canada,” Chapman said of the garden.

On the northern side of the 25-acre field, visitors can hear and see the Carillon Bell Tower, which chimes throughout the garden every 15 minutes in the summer. According to a sign near the monument, the bells were a donation from the First Methodist Church of Brandon, Man., in the 1970s and stand as a tribute to war veterans.

Directly across the garden is the 9/11 memorial, a tribute which showcases beams from the fallen World Trade Center towers. The monument was implemented in 2002, acquired by the Rotary International Clubs of Minot and Brandon. Chapman said he plans to host the garden’s very first 9/11 memorial 5K this year at the Peace Garden that would take participants through a finish line in front of the memorial.

At the far western end of the garden, the park is anchored by a nondenominational peace chapel. Behind the chapel’s wooden doors is a limestone-walled room etched with 51 quotes about peace from leaders from around the world and throughout history.

“The most rewarding part is getting to see the look on people’s faces when they see something like the peace chapel and are just in awe about how quiet it is,” said Chapman.

No recent changes have been made to the garden, Chapman said, but plans to replace the peace towers are in the works. The two columns, which were a widely recognized aspect of the garden, were torn down in 2016 as the structures were failing. Chapman said securing funding has been a roadblock.  

“I think the board and a lot of visitors are still pretty curious about what is going to replace the towers,” said Chapman. “To replace anything that big is going to stretch well into eight figures.”

The Peace Garden is funded through the state of North Dakota and the province of Manitoba, but such an undertaking would require outside funds Chapman said.

Much of the recreation the park has to offer, including hiking trails and Lake Stormon, where visitors can canoe or kayak, is located on the less developed Canadian side of the park.

“It was just kind of the way the original board had laid things out,” Chapman said of the more natural side of the park. “It was just kind of how it came together, they wanted to make sure there was a good chunk that was still wilderness.”

With so much to see, the trip could be done over days. Conveniently, there are 36 camping spots available on the grounds, which draw around 560 guests a year.  

Needs

Some of the biggest challenges facing the Peace Garden today are infrastructure needs and funding, Chapman said.

“The No. 1 priority would be staff housing and general infrastructure, especially in the formal garden area.”

Chapman lives on the grounds himself and noted that much of the other year-round staff do as well. In order to retain this talented, loyal workforce, he said infrastructure upgrades are necessary not only to the gardens but to staff housing on the grounds. The garden is staffed by eight year-round employees and an additional 25-30 are hired on for the summer months.

With so much to see and do at the garden, people may forget it has more to offer than just its physical essence. In today’s political climate, when tensions are strained between the U.S. and Canada governments for one of the first times in recent history, Chapman said the garden can be a valuable asset in maintaining peace.

In 1977, the garden was first used as a neutral meeting site to discuss the Garrison Project, an American hydroelectric power project which raised environmental concerns by Canada and caused brief tension between the two countries.

“Studies show when people get out in nature and around plants, thought process improves,” said Chapman, noting the garden would make for a great environment for world leaders to gather and make decisions.

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