In the future, guests will receive a map of the grounds at the new orientation center, which will be renovated to the highest green standards possible, and be able to explore the property at their leisure, for free. In the past, visitors were only able to explore Duke Farms on guided tours, Taylor said.
"It'll give people a sense of what they can see on the property," he said. "For us and our visitors, increased access to the property is one of the most exciting aspects of the new vision for Duke Farms. Visitors can wander off and experience the cultural landscape the Duke family had planned and conserved there."
In the nearer term, the Courier-News notes:
In order to meet future needs, Taylor said some popular tours will close in May, such as tours of the display of the garden greenhouses. A new, reconfigured version of the display gardens will be moved to a different greenhouse conservatory on the site that was built in 1902. Updated renovations to the greenhouse conservatory will be done in accordance with gold status for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standards, Kessler said.
Taylor said the greenhouse conservatory will be renovated to improve energy-efficiency and environmental sustainability of the gardens by removing the roof and replacing it with glass plates to save energy.
Inside, visitors will be surrounded by aquatic pools and hundreds of lush and leafy tropical plants studded with an array of orchids. One orchid with a delicate creamy white blossom was developed on the estate during the 1920s and named "Phalonopsis Doris" after Duke.
In addition, the gardens will be expanded to include outdoor displays, and visitors will be able to take courses on potting, arrangements, horticulture and ways to bring those creations home to their own gardens.
"This is a bittersweet milestone for us," Taylor said. "On one hand, this is the first step in increasing public access. On the other, it's the final months of the gardens being on display in the greenhouses that have enchanted visitors since 1964."
As a result, the gardens will be available to tour for free until May 25 in celebration of its history and the future of the displays. Walks along the 1.5-mile "Walk on the Wild Side" nature trail also will be free.
The Estate Park and Nature Tour also will remain open on a limited basis, and nature programs, bike tours and horticultural classes will continue to be offered, Kessler said.
Of interactions with other programs:
[Karen]Kessler said Duke Farms also plans to serve as a demonstration site for sustainability and will undertake various renewable energy, habitat restoration and ecological research projects.
One ongoing program -- the Rutgers Environmental Stewards Class of 2008, which began classes Jan. 15 -- recently won the New Jersey Governor's Environmental Excellence Award for environmental education. The class at Duke Farms entails 60 hours of classroom training and field study, followed by 60 hours of volunteer work on an environmental project. Past projects have included work with the New Jersey Audubon Society and the D&R Greenway.
Robert Goodman, executive dean for agriculture and natural resources at Rutgers University, said about five faculty members from the college have been involved with programs at Duke Farms. The new initiative will allow up to about 12 faculty members in the future.
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