Opinion Matters

With Gazette Opinion Editor Greg Peck

Greg Peck: About that Rotary Gardens camera policy

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Greg Peck
August 3, 2015

A recent letter to the editor, then a follow-up Gazette story, cast the spotlight on the camera policy at Rotary Botanical Gardens in Janesville.

I might be a tad late in discussing this topic, but it was developing about the time I was heading out the door for vacation.

I have had a bit of history with that policy. A few years ago, I restored a 1954 Schwinn bicycle and talked a friend into coming from Jefferson to take photos of me on the bike on Janesville's trails. We then went over to Rotary Gardens. A staffer asked what the photos were to be used for, and I said personal use. My friend has worked as a professional photographer and works for a magazine company where he writes and takes photos of his story subjects, as well, but our intent that day was just to put my bike in pretty backdrops for my own use.

I paid him only lunch, and we paid no photography fee at the gardens.

I admit, I later sold a feature story about the bike restoration to a magazine, and a couple of those photos from Rotary Gardens went with the package.

I've been to the Rotary Gardens light show at Christmastime and snapped numerous photos twice in the last few years. No one questioned me as I brought in not a cellphone camera but my Canon digital. Last winter, I even took a tripod along.

During the Rotary Gardens home garden tour a few weeks ago, my wife and I toured all the homes, took lots of photos, then took the camera to Rotary Gardens. We shot a bunch of photos there, too, including several in which my wife posed in scenic settings. No one asked me to pay a $25 fee.

So to me, it doesn't seem that Rotary Gardens is consistent on its photo policy. The writer of that letter, a Milton woman, said she was asked to pay $9 when she said she wanted to take pictures of her 2-year-old granddaughter during a visit to the gardens.

In our story July 24, Rotary Gardens Marketing Director Susan Melton said people at the gardens for the purpose of taking posed photos must pay a $25 photo permit. Examples include family, wedding, engagement and senior photos. The policy applies to amateur and professional photographers. If people are at the gardens with the intent of enjoying the area and then decide to take a photo of themselves or the people with them, that is allowed without a photo permit. Visitors are encouraged to take casual photos for personal use, Melton told The Gazette.

The letter and story sparked much online discussion. Some people were offended by the fee, and one said he would not return to the gardens. That's too bad.

My wife has been volunteering there. A few years ago, I held a surprise retirement party for her there. We think the gardens are one of Janesville's greatest assets. Melton hinted the policy might be reviewed, and that would be a good idea. I can see charging professional photographers taking senior pictures, wedding photos, etc. Maybe, too, some fee should be charged so the gardens aren't overrun with prom-night picture taking. But for average residents who are taking family photos or who might want to pose a friend or relative in the gardens, it seems that the admission fee should suffice.

Admission fees, except for Friends of Rotary Gardens members, are $7 for adults, $5 for ages 6-15 and free for younger children. So if your family with, say, five adults wants to stop and pose for photos, it costs you $35 just to gain entry. Seems reasonable enough to me if you want to pose them for a photo without an extra fee—unless you're paying a pro for a portrait shot. Tack on a $25 photo fee, and you're likely creating ill will that the gardens don't need.


Greg Peck can be reached at (608) 755-8278 or [email protected]. Or follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

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