Lionshead’s new park combines art and play
Ryan Summerlin September 21, 2013
VAIL — Vail is home to pirate ships, towering steel men and now, giant birds’ nests.
The town’s kids are getting a new playground at Lionshead Park, located in a plaza tucked between Vail Ski Tech and Billy’s Island Grill. But this will be no run-of-the-mill city park — the pieces of wood and steel going into the new public area create a jungle gym incorporating a rock climbing wall and giant birds’ nests, designed by artist and architect Mike Moore, of Tres Birds studio in Denver. The art and playground equipment will join a new pop-jet foundation that was installed earlier this spring to complete a new play spot for families.
The park will join several other custom playgrounds doubled as art installations in Vail, including the pirate ship jungle gym located next to Vail Village’s Gondola One, and Red Sandstone Park, featuring a playground made up of large steel figures “lifting” and “moving” a series of huge boxes and spools.
“We’ve been building our own playgrounds for 40 years or so,” said town landscape architect Gregg Barrie. “Our whole playground program has been very well received. There are very few communities that still build their own playgrounds. It’s the uniqueness and something different Vail can offer instead of catalog playgrounds, which can be more generic. This speaks to a world-class resort. And it’s not just for visitors — we know the locals love our playgrounds as well.”
The only thing missing …
Town planners said they have been looking for a way to create a park at Lionshead for a while, but struggled to work around building and use restrictions. The area already boasts the amenities of a big park — hiking trails on Vail Mountain, a bike path, skate park and ice skating rink at the Arrabelle — but is lacking a play area.
“It was missing cost-free children’s activity that would draw families into Lionshead, a reason to hang out and play, as well as draw business and activity to the heart of the village,” Barrie said.
The town chose a space called Sun Dial Plaza that used to be a small green space for the site of the new park. The project, with the playground, climbing rock, fountain, snowmelt pavement, a new stairway and railings connecting the area to the pedestrian overpass bridge, will cost $850,000.
On Sept. 24, cranes will lower the wood-and-steel “birds’ nests” in place, connected by rope bridges and slides. The climbing wall construction will begin Oct. 15 and expected to be completed by Nov. 7.
Barrie said the previously neglected space will get a new name, possibly through a public naming contest, once the park is completed.
A unique concept
The concept for the playground began when the town put out a call for designers for the project. Moore and Tres Birds caught the town’s attention with its unique and modern portfolio. The Denver-based firm has tackled projects ranging from public art installations to designing Burton stores around the world.
While Tres Birds had never built a playground before, the town council and Art in Public Places board knew that the firm would be able to come up with something unique and see it through to completion.
“They’re known for being wonderfully innovative in contemporary detail and design,” said Doe Browning, chair of the Art in Public Places board. “We basically said, ‘Knock our socks off. We won’t tell you what to do. We won’t give you a theme.’ They came back with the concept of the nests, and we loved it.”
If birds’ nests in a playground are hard to imagine, it’s understandable. Moore’s “nests” are less stick-like and more graceful, mimicking the shape of a closed flower. They’re functional as well — they’ll connect play bridges and slides, and kids can run and climb on them.
Browning called Lionshead a “family Mecca,” and said that the idea of families and nests fit perfectly.
“I’ve lived in Lionshead for 14 years, and my impression is that it is packed with families. It’s stroller to stroller there. I think this park will bring a lot to Lionshead,” Browning said.