Experiencing the natural beauty of downtown Ventura’s hillside Grant Park has become easier and more relaxing. That’s thanks to the construction of a scenic hiking trail by backers of the ambitious plan to build Botanical Gardens and other new attractions in the 107 acre park.

Accessing the park by foot in the past has involved walking up one of three roads that required watching out for passing cars, and detracted from the park’s natural setting. Now the connection to the environment becomes much more apparent while hiking up the carefully designed and well built trail.

The trail begins in the upper parking lot behind Ventura City Hall. It’s about a mile long, and has a gentile grade thanks to numerous switchbacks. Portions of it are even wheelchair accessible.

During a recent ribbon cutting celebration, supporters and board members of the charity behind the efforts marveled at the ocean and downtown views provided by each twist of the trail. Extensive construction also unearthed some interesting cultural artifacts, including rock walls built more than a century ago to help form terraces when the hillside was used for agriculture.

Board member Mike Merewether says they’re proud to unveil the fruits of their efforts. “I’m real excited about it obviously. It’s a great milestone,” says Merewether. “They’re going to see some tangible evidence of all the work and preparations that’s gone on over the last six years.”

A Vision Plan includes five gardens representing the only spots on the globe with Mediterranean climates like Ventura’s. Others include Chile, Australia and South Africa. People strolling through the gardens will see the similarities and differences of plants growing in all of the planet’s Mediterranean climates.

Additional features of the Ventura Botanical Gardens could include an education center in an underused barbeque area and a small restaurant. There’s also a possibility that a natural amphitheater could be built into a hillside.

Midge Stork was a driving force behind the original vision and a past board president. She hopes the new trail will help them meet fundraising goals and expose more people to the plan.

“This is a first step. We feel so good about putting that shovel in the ground, because this just opens the doors for it all”, says Stork. “It’s such a vision and it’s so nice to know that those plants will be growing. People will be able to spread out and enjoy the different biomes and all the different countries.”

The plan for the city owned property has won strong backing from the City Council which approved an option agreement with the charity. Deputy Mayor Cheryl Heitmann helped cut the red ribbon at the ceremony.

Ventura Community Development Director Jeffery Lambert says city government lacks the funding for major improvements at the park, and the charity’s backers have pledged to finance it through donations and grants.

“Really it’s an opportunity for the city to partner with a non-profit to make something happen that we couldn’t do on our own,” says Lambert.

The new trail also provides an important link between Ventura’s historic downtown and Grant Park according to Lambert. “Our hope is this becomes an obvious connection. Right now if you don’t know Ventura you don’t even know how to get into the park. Hopefully we can make this a place where it’s obvious people can get in from downtown and make that connection really strong,” says Lambert.

The charity has an internet website detailing the plans and ways to get involved in the efforts at http://www.venturabotanicalgardens.com/