After fire, Fernwood railway garden scheduled to reopen May 1

Leader photo/CRAIG HAUPERT — Workers from Applied Imagination were busy constructing the new railway garden at Fernwood Friday.

Leader photo/CRAIG HAUPERT — Workers from Applied Imagination were busy putting together the new railway garden at Fernwood Friday.

Elaine Rowland found any excuse, no matter how small, to venture outside on Friday.

The development director at Fernwood Botanical Garden and Nature Preserve would make her way to down Fernwood’s winding paths toward the railway garden, which was in the process of being reconstructed after a fire destroyed it in October.

“We are obsessed with it right now,” Rowland said. “We aren’t working in our offices. We are working out here so we can watch the progress because it is a really exciting time for Fernwood right now.

“After what we went through it was so traumatic and sad not only for us, but for our visitors, that seeing all this come up again is amazing. We can’t wait for the public to see it.”

A team of about half a dozen workers from Applied Imagination — the Kentucky-based company that created the original railway garden — arrived Thursday in vehicles filled with pieces of the display that had been prebuilt after the Oct. 21 fire.

Much work remained to be done on Friday, but workers said they were confident they could assemble all the pieces by Sunday, leaving Fernwood staff to add the finishing touches, including landscaping around the 50-by-50-foot structure, before the grand re-opening scheduled for noon to 6 p.m. Sunday, May 1.

Fernwood Director Carol Line said the rebuilt railway would be very similar to the old one with the exception of some improvements and embellishments.

In addition to many, many feet of miniature train tracks, the garden features multiple truss bridges that can be walked under, a bridge that can be walked over, a river, waterfall, tunnels, mountain and a lake.

All of the miniature replicas of area landmarks are returning, including the University of Notre Dame’s Golden Dome and Buchanan’s Pears Mill, both of which were destroyed in the fire.

“It is important to our visitors to see those,” Line said. “We’ve already been imagining what we are going to add.”

During the grand re-opening, six new trains will debut on the rebuilt track. Rowland said all but one of the old trains was lost in the fire. The lone survivor — a tiny ladybug train — somehow made its way into the display’s lake during the fire, keeping it safe from the flames.

“She was a quirky little train and the kids loved her,” she said. “She did a nose dive into the pool for some reason and saved herself.”

Shortly after the fire — the cause of which remains “accidental, unknown” — Line said many people from the community reached out to Fernwood in a variety of ways to show their support for the popular attraction.

Fernwood raised approximately $12,000 in an online fundraiser, which Line said was enough to cover the insurance deductible.

Local schools and individuals also made donations, including a young boy who gave $11 of his allowance.

“We found out immediately how much this exhibit meant to our members and the public because of the outpouring of sincere sentiments and donations to ensure a happy rebuild,” she said. “That was incredible.”

Line also revealed that Fernwood is planning on constructing a second railway garden as part of a capital campaign that will be unveiled to the public May 1.

Line said they’ve already raised $2 million of the $3 million they are attempting to raise through the campaign. Some of the projects the campaign will fund include doubling the size of the railway garden and expanding and enhancing the children’s area.

Line said Applied Imagination would create the second railway garden.

If you go…

WHAT: Railway garden grand reopening
WHEN: Noon to 6 p.m., Sunday, May 1
WHO: Anyone
COST: $9 adults, $7 seniors, $4 for children 5-17, free for children under 5. Members free
ABOUT: Enjoy light refreshments and children’s activities while exploring the railway garden.

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