Steamboat Springs Shaking the dirt from tiny bunches of roots and scooping handfuls of earth to make room for new plants, people who knew Nathan Hertzog laughed, got a little teary-eyed, hugged and shared memories of their friend, brother, and son.
"The planting will provide a way for those of us who loved Nathan to gather, while creating a spot for people to just enjoy. He was so peaceful there," Sally Hertzog, Nathan's mother, said at the Yampa River Botanic Park on Saturday.
Nathan, a Steamboat native, was killed at the age of 25 in a traffic accident a year ago this past June just outside Steamboat Springs. His closest friends and family members have been working since then with the Yampa River Botanic Park staff to create a garden in his memory.
During one of Nathan's summers home from Fort Lewis College in Durango, he worked in the botanic park doing stonework. Knowing he was a former employee of the park and a passionate young naturalist, Nathan's family felt a small haven there would be an appropriate way to remember him.
"He was always so happy here," his father, Gary, said. "We used to come here to have lunch with him, and he was always laughing and smiling."
"Nathan had a grandfather who was handicapped, and couldn't get out into the wild," Sally Hertzog said. "This is a great place where everyone can gather and see Nathan in a beautiful, tranquil setting."
Nathan's friends traveled from far and wide to help plant the garden, many of them carrying stones from special places they'd been with him. Collectively, the stones formed a cairn that Nathan's former college roommate, Jessie Hamilton, said was a vital aspect of Nathan's garden.
"Nathan was a backpacker and a climber, so this cairn is really symbolic because they're usually placed on trails as guides," she said.
Nathan's younger sister, Ashley, who is in school in Denver, said her brother would have loved to see all of his friends and family members working together outside to create something like his garden.
Both the botanic park and the Hertzogs have established funds at the Yampa Valley Community Foundation to meet their philanthropic goals.
The Hertzogs have set up a fund at the community foundation in Nathan's name to further his causes of environmental protection, and promotion of the arts, education and social justice. The foundation oversees several memorial funds established by friends and family members to honor their loved ones, in addition to several other types of funds.
"The foundation plays a multitude of roles in the community demonstrated by the botanic parka and Hertzog funds. It's our job to help people do great things," said Dianna Sutton, CEO and president of the foundation.
Planning for the Hertzog garden has taken considerable cooperation between botanic park staff and the Hertzog family. Park staff prepared the chosen plot for the garden, ordered the plants and offered assistance with design.
Nathan's aunt, Cece Hall, is an avid gardener in Oregon who designed the garden and chose many of the native plants to grow there.
Gary Hertzog and local artist Wayne Kakela are building a bench for the garden.
"It has been a real collective effort between the park, our family and Nathan's friends," Sally said. "And it's going to be really fun to maintain."
Park supervisor Gayle Noonan said sponsoring a garden like Nathan's is a big commitment because it requires constant maintenance. But that's part of the reason the Hertzogs and Nathan's friends liked the idea. Said Hamilton:
"Giving life to something helps the process of grieving."
To reach Bonnie Nadzam call 871-4205 or e-mail email@example.com