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England's Indoor Rainforest Boasts Success

KCCI-TV8, Des Moines


Broadcast February 2, 2006; Posted February 3, 2006

[Note: This material is copyright by KCCI-TV8, and is reproduced here as a matter of "fair use" for non-commercial, educational purposes only. Any other use may require the prior approval of KCCI-TV8.]

CORNWALL, England -- Every year, more than 1 million tourists visit the world's largest indoor rainforest in England.

For years, a group of Iowans has been trying to build support for an environmental project that includes a massive indoor rainforest.

Now, several central Iowa cities are trying to land the $155 million project.

NewsChannel 8's Eric Hanson traveled to England, where a similar project opened five years ago.

Cornwall is located in the southwest corner of England, and it's home to the Eden Project, which is touted as the world's largest indoor rainforest experience.

The attraction was built five years ago, and rainforest planners in Iowa want to use it as a model for a proposed Environmental Project.

"If you saw this pit 10 years ago, you'd never think a plant would grow again, let alone a cultivated plant," said Anji Bromley, an Eden Project tour guide.

Today, it's a rainbow of more than 100,000 types of vegetation.

"The Eden Project is about really getting people excited about the environment, rather than beating them up and saying, 'You can't do this and you can't do that.' It's about people power," said Gaynor Coley, the project's managing director.

The indoor rainforest is characterized by two large domes, or biomes. The smaller biome has a warm, temperate climate for plants such as oranges and cacti.

The second dome, called the Humid Tropics, is similar to what Iowa project planners want. The tropics house cocoa trees, banana plants and star fruits.

Many of these plants grow only in rain forests.

"Look at the big potatoes hanging down. They're arial yams," Bromley said.

Three layers of a Teflon-like material hold heat in the facility. It forms a strong, lightweight air pillow, covering the plants and people inside.

"Today, there'll be 600 or 700 people on site. In the summer, there'll be 10,000 people on site during a day, which is pretty busy. In fact, it can get a little too busy," said marketing director Dave Meneer.

Officials said 1.8 million walked the rainforest's paths in its first year -- double their expectations.

"I didn't think it would draw the crowds that it obviously does," said Jan Moates, of Exeter in Devon.

The Eden Project covers nearly four acres, which is 10 bigger than Des Moines Botanical Center and slightly larger than the Unidome in Cedar Falls.

"It's a lot bigger than I thought it would be. It's amazing when you get inside just how big it is," said Marc Jarvis, of Aldishire in Hampshire.

Only part of the learning happens inside the biomes. Thousands more plants are growing outside in the English climate.

By March, a million bulbs will burst.

"Cauliflower's here; there's kale over there or broccoli," Bromley said.

Giant artwork walks visitors through the process of plants' pollination and pollution, and illustrates how each season is special.

"The reason we're called project is because there's always something happening. There's always movement here," Meneer said.

In the winter, there is nighttime ice skating in the area. In the summer, there are outdoor concerts take place there.

"(It's) a fabulous attraction in a very touristy part of the world. I mean, we're not far from the sea here," Meneer said.

Cornwall is five miles from villages on the English Channel, and 30 minutes from surfers on the Atlantic Ocean.

"I think it's now 40 percent of people say this was the main reason or one of the main reasons I bothered to come down and take a look. Let's see what Eden's all about," Meneer said.

The $200 million project was paid for with proceeds from the country's National Lottery.

"Most all our friends have been here, so well-known, yes indeed," said John Rogers, who lives near London.

"It was a wonderful idea. It's more than paid off," said Wyn Sweeney, of Exeter in Devon.

There are some differences between the Eden Project and the proposed Iowa project.

Iowa would feature a 600,000-gallon aquarium and some small animals.

Eden doesn't have that. But it does have two biomes with plans for a third. Iowa would just have one biome.

Another difference is the cost. Iowa's plan costs about $50 million less than Eden.

Watch NewsChannel 8 at 10 p.m. Friday for the second part of the story.