In full bloom

Botanic Park offers beauty, new events this summer

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— Gayle Noonan might work in Eden, but on a hot summer afternoon, the gardens are no paradise.

"Let's go find some shade," Noonan said Thursday at the Yampa River Botanic Park in Steamboat Springs, walking along gravel trails lined with flowering plants. Noonan has been the park's supervisor since September of 1997, just a few months after the park was built.

Earlier Thursday, she said, temperatures reached 90 degrees in the shade, making plant-tending a hot chore for Noonan and her small staff.

"We've all been complaining about the heat," she said. "We'd love to see rain today."

Rain has been hard to find lately, but shade is plentiful at the botanic park.

The park's five acres include 30 gardens and countless varieties of native and non-native plants, perennials, annuals, herbs, trees and shrubs. Plenty of benches offer quiet sitting spots along the gravel trails. There is also a reflecting pond and a large pond -- called Peter's Pond -- that is adjacent to "The Green," an open, grassy area used for community events, picnics, or just lying around.

Noonan said keeping the park in bloom is not easy in Steamboat Springs, a high-altitude environment with a short growing season.

"We're trying to show what an amazing variety of plants grow here in our 60 frost-free days a year," Noonan said. "It's not a very long time without frost."

For local green thumbs struggling with their plants, Noonan said variety is the spice of a successful garden.

"The trick in a perennial garden is to always have something flowering," she said. "You want to pick the plants that have the right (sun) exposure, with a variety of blooming times, spring through fall."

After nearly a decade spent shaping the botanical park and planting countless flowers, Noonan said she doesn't have one favorite plant.

"It changes all the time," Noonan said. "I can't pick one. I even like dandelions -- I know they're a pain in the butt, but I think they're pretty."

She has the same mixed feelings about the family of magpies that lives in the park.

"They're obnoxious, but they do eat a lot of bugs, so I'm OK with them," she said of the large, black-and-white birds.

Dave Sturges has worked at the botanical park for as long as Noonan. A soft-spoken man with a firm grip, Sturges plants and tends trees throughout the park. He has a simple reason for why he likes the seasonal job he has held since 1997.

"Just seeing things blossom after all that care," Sturges said. "I've seen big changes over the time I've been here."

That includes the trees along the walkway into the park, Sturges said. Local students planted those trees "four or five years ago" as part of a study buddy group that paired first-graders with high school biology students.

"That was a great program," Noonan said. "Kids still know their own trees -- they'll come by and point them out."

This summer, the park is offering new programs for local youth. An upcoming magic show and puppet show will provide two evenings of free entertainment for local families. Yampatika, a local environmental education group, is partnering with the park for weekly youth events on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings. Summer camps with the city's parks and recreation department often use the park, which also offers free weekly concerts and volunteer gardening in the summer.

The busy calendar suits Noonan just fine.

"I love getting to be here all the time," she said of her job at the park. "It's my little slice of heaven."

-- To reach Mike Lawrence, call 871-4203

or e-mail mlawrence@steamboatpilot.com

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