At a time when high school football games are being canceled because teams are being waylaid by the coronavirus, and some people are wondering if they can risk a Thanksgiving dinner this year, good news is not exactly in an oversupply. But Southeast Texas got a welcome boost this week with the long-awaited reopening of the Shangri La Botanical Gardens in Orange.

With the possible exception of the Big Thicket National Preserve, Shangri La might be the most impressive outdoor asset in the region. It’s so good it might hold that title in Houston or Dallas.

It’s collection of plants, flower, shrubbery and trees is simple amazing. This is one of those rare locations that is beautiful and educational at the same time, 252 lush acres located, ironically, in the heart of Orange. It’s actually a program of the Nelda C. and H.J. Lutcher Stark Foundation, a private organization that provides significant resources for the enjoyment of art, history, nature and culture in our region.

For months, Shangri La, this diverse tribute to Mother Nature, was shuttered by another living organism — the tiny coronavirus — but finally it has bounced back. Southeast Texans wasted no time in going through that gate again. On the first morning this week, 40 visitors had already entered the grounds by 11 a.m. Many of them had enjoyed it before and couldn’t wait to get back. The cool weather made the visit even nicer.

As one visitor said, “It makes me feel so good to be back. There really is no substitute for walking outside, and there are few places that feel more natural than this.”

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That’s right on target, and the early crowds were not a surprise. Shangri La sees an average of 55,000 to 60,000 guests a year, though that number will clearly be smaller this year because of the pandemic. Those totals should return next year, if the virus and tropical storms cooperate.

Shangri La has overcome setbacks before. Soon after it opened, Hurricane Rita ravaged most of the grounds in 2005. The facility was closed for months, but it reopened the next year. And earlier this month Hurricane Laura brought some of the destruction, though thankfully not as much.

Whenever you have visitors from out of town, think about taking them to Shangri La. We don’t think they’ll be disappointed. It’s difficult to stroll through the grounds without being moved by the beauty and variety of Mother Nature, the delicate interior of a fragile flower or the intricate bark pattern on a mature tree.

Shangri La is something very special, and it’s right here in Southeast Texas. Let’s enjoy it.



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