Vail starts planning for Ford Park future

New plan may see some uses move elsewhere

The annual Magic of Lights display is one of the events and activities at Vail’s Ford Park.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily archive

Vail’s Ford Park is one of the town’s biggest and most popular amenities. But as its use increases, what’s the best way to preserve the park and keep it available for broad use?

Vail officials are now looking at a new use plan for the park and its amenities. The town in January will issue a request for a consultant team to guide that plan. The budget for the project is about $150,000.

Vail Special Projects Manager Todd Oppenheimer recently briefed the council on current ideas for updating the current use plan.

Oppenheimer said the new plan’s primary objectives are similar to those in the plan update in 2013: managing the park and protecting the park from overuse.

Some of that potential overuse comes from events, particularly in the winter.

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“Are the venues we’re creating showing off the park in its best light?” Oppenheimer asked, also questioning whether the park is set up to handle special events.

The plan will also look at the town’s partnerships with organizations that lease space at the park: the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens, Vail Recreation District and Vail Valley Foundation, which operates the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater.

The Vail Nature Center is owned by the town, which contracts with Walking Mountains Science Center for operations.

Around the park, Oppenheimer said attention needs to be paid to complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater is one of many amenities at Vail’s Ford Park.
Vail Daily archive

While the planning process will include plenty of public input and work with the town’s partners, Mayor Kim Langmaid said it needs to begin with “high goals and values.” And, she added, any future plans for the park needs to incorporate the values of the town’s still-developing Destination Stewardship project, which aims to combine inviting guests with maintaining the natural values that draw people to Vail in the first place.

That could mean moving some events and activities. It could also mean taking another look at keeping or replacing natural grass at the athletic fields.

At one point, the town’s 2022 budget contained a line item to replace the grass with artificial turf. Field users complained to the council, which dropped the project from the budget. But the public process of determining the park’s future will likely take a deeper look at the pros and cons of converting the fields.

Council member Jonathan Staufer said the park is in danger of “being loved to death” and wondered if the pickleball courts could be moved to Donovan Park and some events could move to other parts of town.


Other council members wondered if the current timetable for the plan is too aggressive.

Council member Travis Coggin urged town officials to avoid setting an ambitious schedule.

“I don’t think we’re giving ourselves enough time,” Coggin said. That’s particularly true at the Vail Nature Center and fire equipment access to park facilities, he said.

The process of drafting the new plan will begin in 2022.

What’s at the park?

Ford Park is Vail’s largest and includes the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens, Vail Nature Center, Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater, Vail Recreation District offices, softball and athletic fields, tennis courts and a half-court for basketball.

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