Vail’s Betty Ford Alpine Gardens celebrates 25th anniversary Saturday
A chance encounter between Marty Jones, landscape designer and Colorado Alpines and Wildflower Farms owner and Helen Fritch, owner of the Sitzmark Lodge, led to the creation of one of the most beautiful and most photographed summer attractions in Vail — the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens. Located in Ford Park, the gardens is celebrating its 25th Anniversary today from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. with free activities, live entertainment, a silent auction and fun for the whole family.
The event starts at 9 a.m. with vinyasa yoga, followed by complimentary docent tours, children’s activities, a treasure hunt and art in the gardens. The silent auction will feature a Vail Resort Epic Pass, a makeup party for 5 including a gift basket worth $250 from the Cos Bar, restaurant gift certificates and more. The auction concludes at 3 p.m. — the same time a photography workshop begins. Prize winning photographer Jon Sheppard offers tips and techniques to improve photography skills.
Lively Celtic entertainment with the Lougheed Band begins at 1 p.m.. The Lougheed Band is a musical trio featuring Pam Gillmann and Mark Hill, both multi-instrumental icons in the Denver music scene. Joining them is local musician Chris Peck. The three have combined their artistry to form Lougheed — Scottish Gaelic for “head of the lake.”
“We have compiled a fabulous silent auction, food, entertainment and activities for the young and the young-at-heart,” said Liz Campbell, development and outreach director. “It took a community to build the Gardens and now it is time to celebrate 25 years of success.”
All proceeds from the silent auction and bake sale help pay Betty Ford Alpine Gardens annual operating costs.
A brief history
Marty Jones became interested in alpine plants through Panayoti Kelaidis, who was curator of the Rock Alpine Garden at Denver Botanic Gardens at that time. Jones lived in Vail and realized it was an ideal spot for an alpine garden – a suitable altitude and climate and a resort community that would draw visitors to learn about the native wildflowers of the Rocky Mountains.
Helen Fritch happened upon Jone’s idea literally by accident. She found him and his truck stalled west of Georgetown on a return trip from Denver. When she stopped to help and give him a ride back to Vail, she listened to his ideas about building an alpine garden in Vail.
“To a gardener like me,” she said, “it sounded like a good idea and I got involved.”
When June Simonton heard about Jone’s idea, she knew just the place for the garden and proposed Ford Park as the site at a time when the town of Vail sought public input into the planning process for the park. The town ultimately included an alpine garden in the Ford Park Master Plan under the leadership of Fritch and the organization incorporated in 1985 and in 1986 the IRS approved the group’s non-profit 501(c)3 status.
The Alpine Display Garden was built the following year, in the spring of 1987. Successful fundraising enabled the board to oversee the creation of the Mountain Perennial Garden in 1988-89, followed by the Mountain Meditation Garden in 1990-91.
In 1987, the Gardens were named for former first lady Betty Ford, wife of the late President Gerald R. Ford, for all of her many contributions to both the local community and the country. Ford turned the first shovel of dirt for the Mountain Perennial Garden in the spring of 1988 and Betty Ford Alpine Gardens was formally dedicated on Aug. 11, 1989, in a grand celebration with the Fords, guests from Denver Botanic Gardens, town of Vail staff and hundreds of donors and volunteers. Betty Ford was very fond of the Gardens. Before she passed away, she wanted to ensure the gardens’ future so she asked Sheika Gramshammer to “be sure to take great care of (her) gardens.”
In 1994, the board returned to the town of Vail with further plans for the gardens. Plans included the Alpine Rock Garden and an education center to be built into the hillside under the new garden. However, the town’s concerns over park usage, access and parking delayed the process for more than two years and, ultimately, it was decided that no further structures should be built in the area. In 1997, the excavation for the Alpine Rock Garden began and work continued through 1999. A long-range education plan was adopted in 1996 and included school programs, educational workshops, plant conservation and research, a computer database for plant collection, community outreach, a horticultural library and a museum shop.
From 1999 through 2001, renowned landscape architect Herb Schaal designed the Children’s Garden, and the Schoolhouse Accessible Garden. He also produced schematic drawings of the Gore Creek Nature Trail. In 2001, the Children’s and Schoolhouse Accessible Gardens were constructed.
Through the years, a number of transformations produced one of the most popular summer attractions in Vail, hosting over 100,000 visitors each year. The gardens participate in the conservation and reintroduction of some of North America’s rarest plants. Future plans include building an education center, complete with an herbarium and growing rooms to further contributions to Eagle County and the world.