A Walk in the Park
It’s approaching 3 p.m. on a Wednesday, and I am hitting that midafternoon slump. Instead of reaching for the coffee, I opt for some exercise and a dose of fresh air. I hop on my bike and cruise down the Yampa River Core Trail. In less than five minutes, I have arrived at my intended destination: the Yampa River Botanic Park. There is no shortage of parks in Steamboat Springs, but this park is by far my favorite. The quiet serenity and beautiful backdrop provide the perfect escape when I need to relax and recharge.
Once a sprawling horse pasture, the six acre park is now home to more than 50 unique gardens and thousands of plant and animal species. The park officially opened its gates in 1997 and is an innovative experiment in private/public partnerships. The Yampa River Botanic Park sits on land donated to the city but is managed by a volunteer association and board of directors. Their responsibility is to oversee all of the day-to-day operations of the park, everything from staffing to maintenance to fundraising.
Unlike other botanic parks, ours is free to the public, which encourages people to visit often and take ownership in the park. Annual memberships, facility rentals and public donations help generate the funds needed to support daily operations. If the beautiful gardens were not enough of a draw, the park also plays host to a number of events and activities throughout the summer.
The park is in a constant state of change, continuously evolving with each passing season. There is always something new to see and explore. As I walk through the gates and into the park, I am instantly hit with the sweet fragrance of blooming crabapple and chokecherry trees.
As I make my way toward the reflecting pond, I have the good fortune of bumping into Gayle Lehman, the park supervisor and self-proclaimed “Head Weed Puller.” She has some free time, so we stroll along the park’s gravel path, stopping frequently to examine new blossoms and explore hidden corners of the park. We eventually settle into a bench overlooking the Crevice Garden, and I have the opportunity to ask Gayle a few questions.
Q&A with Gayle Lehman, Yampa River Botanic Park supervisor
Q: How long have you worked at the Yampa River Botanic Park?
A: I have been here since the very beginning. We celebrated our 20th anniversary last year.
Q: What plants are currently in bloom throughout the park?
A: Cold resistant flowers and bulbs, such as tulips, iris, daffodils and grape hyacinth. Also, the crabapple and chokecherry trees are in full bloom and smell amazing.
Q: What is your favorite flower?
A: I love all wildflowers, but I especially like the Alpine forget me not, which blooms in early summer and is typically found at higher elevations in rock crevices and scree fields. I also really love the Indian paintbrush because it is one of the true remaining “wild” flowers. This flower has yet to be successfully domesticated and is rarely found in nurseries or gardens. The flower has a symbiotic relationship with the plants that grow around it, which is hard to replicate and makes the Indian paintbrush almost impossible to cultivate. The roots of the Indian paintbrush grow outward to penetrate the roots of surrounding plants, obtaining the key nutrients necessary for its survival.
Q: With so many amazing gardens at the Yampa River Botanic Park, do you have a favorite?
A: I love all of the gardens, but the Crevice Garden is probably my favorite. The garden was built by hand, one stone at a time, almost like a giant jigsaw puzzle. It was, and continues to be, a labor of love.
Q: In your opinion, when is the best time to visit the park?
A: I would say the 3rd week of July, that is typically when the majority of our gardens are at their peak. That is also the best time to go for a hike and see the wildflowers around Steamboat Springs.
Q: What events and activities are planned for the park this summer?
A: Starting in June, we will continue our Yoga on the Green program. Yoga will be offered Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday mornings from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. for a suggestion donation of $10. We also have Music on the Green every Thursday at 12:15 p.m. beginning in late June and running through mid-August. The popular Piknik Theatre will be back again this year in July and August, and we will be hosting guided tours on Wednesdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. all summer.
Q: If someone wants to get involved in the park, what opportunities are available?
A: We love volunteers, and our Social Gardening program is the perfect opportunity for people to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty. You don’t have to be a master gardener to help; we will give you all the instruction and tools you need. This volunteer program takes place from 9 a.m. to noon. every Wednesday throughout the summer.
It’s time to head back to work, so I thank Gayle for her time and make the journey across the park to my bike. As I leave, I am treated to a glimpse of the park’s local osprey, perched high above the Yampa River on their special nesting platform.
As it frequently does, the park has provided me with a moment of calm in the midst of a hectic day. I have cleared my head and ride away feeling re-energized, focused and ready to take on the day.
Emily Hines is the marketing and special events coordinator for the City of Steamboat Springs. Emily was born and raised in the Yampa Valley and attended the University of Oregon, where she received a Bachelor of Science in business administration with concentrations in marketing and sports business. In 2013, after seven years working on the East Coast for a lifestyle and sports marketing agency, she found her way back home to Steamboat. She loves the outdoors and enjoys sharing her adventures and all that Steamboat has to offer.
Read more from Emily here.
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