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Inside Iowa State, a newspaper for faculty and staff, is published by the Office of University Relations.

June 25, 2009

Reiman Gardens dinosaur

A Maiasaura sculpture is located in the south end of the gardens. Photo courtesy of Reiman Gardens.

Big attractions bring big crowds

by Erin Rosacker

Reiman Gardens director Teresa McLaughlin said a combination of factors is drawing record-breaking crowds to the attraction this year. One BIG reason is the "Landscape Before Time" displays that feature dinosaurs throughout the gardens.

"Both the weather and the displays have given us record attendance," McLaughlin said. "The show that's on display includes life-sized dinosaur sculptures that have intrigued many children, and their parents and grandparents."

Last month saw the best crowds yet in Reiman Gardens' 15-year history, with an estimated 15,000 visitors generating about $53,000. June is posting similar strong numbers, and memberships are on pace to beat last year's total.

Reiman Gardens dinosaur

A Parasaurolophus is nestled among the plants in the Campanile Garden. Photo courtesy of Reiman Gardens.

Survey says

McLaughlin said Reiman Gardens earned a pair of grants this year, which helped find television advertising for the first time. A survey of visitors indicates that advertising is paying off.

"When asked, many guests say they've heard about us because of those ads," McLaughlin said.

The survey results also show that although it's the dinosaurs that may have drawn visitors to the gardens, other features top their lists of favorite things.

"When we've asked people what they have liked most about the gardens, they will say the dinosaurs -- but that is usually in third or fourth place, behind the live butterflies, the flowers in bloom, the landscape designs and even the gift shop," McLaughlin said. "The kids' favorites include the dancing chimes, tumble mounds and the spitting frogs over the dinos."

Perfect timing

The added business has been a much-needed boost as the university faces looming budget cuts.

"Like all of the university, the cultural arts are facing severe cuts to programs and people," McLaughlin said. "These grand attendance and membership increases should help convince decision-makers that the gardens -- and all the arts -- assist with consumer spending in our community and are worth the investment of economic development dollars and spending for quality of life.

"When you examine the gardens' budget, you'll see that we're very labor intensive. More than half our budget is staff, students and training and scheduling volunteers. Only one-quarter of our expenses pay for all the soil, plants, flowers, butterflies and displays."

What works

McLaughlin said they are building on the success of the dinosaur display at Reiman Gardens and plan to use similar models in the future to continue drawing visitors.

"If we can keep this same formula in place, to provide something new and whimsical and have a beautiful garden to boot, this bodes well for our future," she said.

Next year's theme is "Better Gnomes and Gardens," which will feature wind chimes, fairies, gazing balls, animals and (of course) gnomes. Future themes include "Big Bugs" and "Summer of Love."

Reiman Gardens dinosaur

A life-size replica of a Tyrannosaurus rex skull dominates a display bed. Photo courtesy of Reiman Gardens.


"If we can keep this same formula in place, to provide something new and whimsical and have a beautiful garden to boot, this bodes well for our future."

Teresa McLaughlin, Reiman Gardens director