VAIL — If you have to lose a season of athletic events at Ford Park, then this isn’t a bad season to lose.
Work is well underway on an almost-complete renovation of the ball fields at Ford Park. That work, which will upgrade everything from the fields themselves to the drainage underneath, was planned well in advance, in part so the Vail Recreation District could find alternate locations for events from local recreation league softball to big visitor draws ranging from youth soccer to beach volleyball and, the big one, two weeks of youth and adult lacrosse.
Those events bring thousands of participants, family members and well-wishers to Vail every summer. This summer, those events have been moved all over the valley from Edwards east, with a number of tournament events moved to athletic fields at Vail Mountain School and at the old Battle Mountain High School fields in Eagle-Vail.
Most of those people will still stay in Vail — that’s where most of the valley’s lodging is — but will depend on both their own cars and Vail buses to get back and forth to events.
That’s still thousands of people to get around to some unfamiliar places, but Joel Rabinowitz of the Vail Recreation District said it could be worse.
This year’s Vail Lacrosse Shootout, and the youth tournament that comes the week before, are scheduled at the same time as a world championship event in Denver. Rabinowitz said the Denver event will pull a number of teams out of Vail this year, which everyone knew in advance. Still, there are going to be some international teams doing some high-elevation training in the Vail area, so there will still be plenty of people in the valley.
Rabinowitz said the year’s notice of the Ford Park fields’ shutdown was essential in making all that field-juggling possible.
Now the work just needs to be done. Todd Oppenheimer, the town of Vail’s project manager for Ford Park, said a cool, wet May has delayed work at the fields, but he expects the contractor, American Civil Constructors, to be able to make up those delays when the warm weather hits.
There isn’t much of an alternative, Oppenheimer said — Vail’s short construction season doesn’t leave a lot of room for work in the fall.
Still, work has been carrying on, if a bit more slowly. At this point, the “deep work” — drainage, storm water vaults and other features to keep polluted runoff into Gore Creek at a minimum — is nearly finished. That means work on the fields will start soon.
Once those fields are done, there will be room for two full-sized soccer fields over the top of the softball fields. To do this, the fields will have natural-grass outfields and turf infields. That will allow players to run the entire field without hitting the usual drop off when running across an infield.
“People are really excited to see it all when it’s finished,” Rabinowitz said.
Elsewhere in the park, the latest round of improvements is nearly finished at the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater. Last year’s improvements include upgrades to the restrooms and a terraced seating area above the covered seats. This year’s project includes a new, covered entry with a permanent canopy over the entryway.
MAKING A STATEMENT
The Vail Valley Foundation is in charge of the amphitheater project. Foundation president Ceil Folz said she’s heard both cheers and jeers for the canopy — there was some community opposition to the first plans presented to the town, which owns the facility, but that opposition seemed to fade with the plan that’s now under construction.
The new entry also makes the amphitheater space more open. People on the lawn who escape an evening shower under the canopy won’t have to feel like they’ve left the facility, she said.
Besides the canopy, the new entry plaza has stonework and a tribute to the Ford family by Colorado artist Andy Dufford.
“It really makes a statement,” Folz said, adding that Foundation board chairman Harry Frampton provided much of the impetus for the amphitheater’s improvements.
“Harry said ‘We’ve got to keep pace (with other resorts),’” Folz said. “This is a huge piece of that.”
Now the question is whether the improvements at the amphitheater can somehow find a role for the 2015 World Alpine Ski Championships.
“Every committee we have has asked that question,” Folz said. “Nobody’s been able to answer it yet.”