VAIL — Whether you enjoy kickball league, sniffing the wildflowers or a set of tennis, Vail’s latest park improvements will have something for you.
The Betty Ford Alpine Gardens, located in Gerald R. Ford Park behind the playing fields and near the Ford Amphitheater, is the latest part of the park to get major improvements.
The gardens recently got preliminary approval from the town of Vail to build a new education center that will include a high-alpine conservatory. The conservatory will house rare alpine plants, a high-mountains version of the tropical greenhouses commonly found at lower elevations.
“It’s the fulfillment of a dream for the gardens,” said Nicola Ripley, executive director of the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens. “We’ve spent the last year and a half working with the town and looking for various locations in the park for the building. We think we’ve found a good location that isn’t being used right now.”
Once final approval is given, the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens hope to start building this fall and finish the project by next summer. They’re fundraising at the moment, and Ripley said she’s encouraged by the support — they’ve already raised half the funds needed.
Specialty landscapers will help build the conservatory, which is modeled after another garden conservatory in North Yorkshire, England. Once the project is finished, it will be one of the few high-alpine conservatories in the country.
“We’ll have a miniature Rocky Mountains inside. Visitors can come year round and see some of the most difficult alpines from around the world. It’d be really something to put Betty Ford on the map.” Ripley said. “We’ll have some plants, like the Alpine forget-me-not, which is difficult to grow even around here. These are weird little cushion plants that we only see when there are alpine enthusiasts devoting their lives to growing them. They just require such specific conditions.”
The 3,000-square-foot education center will also include a meeting/multipurpose room and staff workspace.
Meanwhile, the current phase of the Ford Park field renovation is coming to an end. What has been a literal pile of dirt to onlookers is slowly taking shape into playing fields as workers laid synthetic turf starting on Monday.
The new turf will make for a better playing surface and will allow the town to paint lines for different configurations depending the sport. An underground rock reservoir will help drain rainwater from the turf, and a filtration system will keep any residue from the turf from draining into the creek, said Todd Oppenheimer, Vail’s capital projects manager.
Sod for the rest of the park will be laid beginning Aug. 1, and then the rest of the summer will be spent putting the finishing touches on the park and letting the new grass take root. No events have been scheduled for the new fields until next spring, when recreation leagues and a three-on-three soccer tournament will break in the new park.
“When it’s all finished, I think people will still recognize it as Ford Park, but better,” said Oppenheimer. “Ideally, I’d love for people to show up at the park and say, ‘Wow, has it always been like this?’”
Booth Creek Park is next
As Ford Park wraps up, the town is beginning to eye improvements to Booth Creek Park, which is located near the Vail Mountain School in East Vail. The town council will discuss the project in August, and work may start next year pending approvals.
Improvements could include a couple new tennis courts to replace the damaged, worn courts, some open turf, a new playground, restroom facilities and some walking paths.
“We’ll leave a lot of it in its natural state, too,” said Oppenheimer. “However, it’s a very old park, and it’s overdue for a facelift.”
Assistant Managing Editor Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2927 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @mwongvail.