Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens ended its experimental, sixth Gardens Aglow season on high notes. CMBG President and CEO Gretchen Ostherr said the team pulled off a spectacular and successful drive-through version of the festivities.
“I feel like we did a really great job coming up with the creative solution to the challenge that the pandemic presented us. The team did a phenomenal job with the design. Some of the statues they created kept it connected to the Gardens. It was really logical, but beautiful.”
After just a few months of planning, the Gardens sold out every evening from Nov. 21 through Jan. 2 for a total of nearly 22,000 tickets, said Ostherr. With visitors constantly asking about area dining and activities, she was hopeful the event brought some semblance of the winter boost businesses usually get.
“I was really heartened by the positive response the community had to us doing something and not just canceling it. We were thinking as much about the greater Boothbay community as we were about ourselves … And people really loved it. We got some great feedback.”
About 15% of visitors responded to a survey with 67% of respondents saying they would return for a future drive-through event; 20% would prefer the walking tour, but would come back for the drive-through event if there are still COVID-19 concerns next season.
The question of whether or not to have Gardens Aglow at all was on the table as CMBG had gone without a president and CEO until July when Ostherr came aboard. She said the team knew in March, something different would need to happen, so it was one of the first things she was charged with. “They were kind of in this limbo of wanting to wait to make a decision one way or another about what we were going to do, but everyone saw the writing on the wall.”
Ostherr said plans for next year are not yet set in stone as crews continue to dismantle this year’s display. However, everyone at the Gardens expects to return to the drive-through model, expanding upon this year’s foundation. If the decision is to continue with the drive-through tour and COVID-19 restrictions ease up, Ostherr expects the town will begin to see a return to normal economic activity. For now, the CMBG crews are gearing up for the warmer months.
“I can't imagine everything's going to be back to normal by next winter. I hope we are of course, I hope I'm wrong about that, but it's just so hard to tell right now … We have to start planning so early for these things … and we do know we can do this and do it safely.”