Exploring Steamboat: A peaceful paradise right in town | SteamboatToday.com

Exploring Steamboat: A peaceful paradise right in town

Flowers were in full bloom earlier this year at the Yampa River Botanic Park in Steamboat Springs.

— On Sunday afternoon, I discovered the perfect antidote to writer's block. I powered down my laptop, grabbed a legal pad and pen and headed to the Yampa River Botanic Park.

A few weeks prior to Sunday's visit, I had the pleasure of touring the park with one of its benefactors, Bob Enever. Bob and his wife, Audrey, donated the land where the Botanic Park now sits to the city of Steamboat Springs and then set up an endowment for its upkeep. Both Audrey and Bob were instrumental in the construction and design of the park and continue to volunteer their time to care for the 6-acre grounds, which are located along Steamboat's popular Core Trail and next to Emerald Park.

As I walked past the soccer fields at Emerald on Sunday and entered the Botanic Park from the west, the raucous sounds of kids playing soccer were instantly muted by the buffers of trees and bermed gardens that encircle the park.

I walked down the main crushed rock path until I discovered a small flagstone walkway to my left that led me through the "Hidden Garden" until I reached the reflecting pond and found an empty bench — one of 27 in the park.

Shaded by tall cottonwoods that created a bowered sanctuary, I watched a robin splash in the water, wetting his feathers by dipping his head into the water and flapping his wings to drum up drops. Nearby, a hummingbird darted in and out of the dark purple blossoms of the Whipples Penstemon, and I had a view of the larger pond and green space at the heart of the park.

Intrigued by glimpses of other colorful blooms and leafy vegetation, I began meandering through the park, first viewing "Jeff's Garden," maintained by the park's No. 1 volunteer Jeff Morehead, and then discovering the "Secret Trail" where large boulders create a whimsical path up into another area of the park that resembles a small forest.

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After following various paths and viewing different garden spots, I glanced at my watch and realized I had spent an hour exploring. The park, which seemed small on my first visit, revealed itself in new ways as I discovered fresh plantings and undiscovered pockets of the park that I'd missed on my first trip here.

During my tour with Bob, I learned about the creation of the park. What started out as flat pasture land, literally blossomed under the vision of the Enevers and members of a hardworking and dedicated park board.

In summer 1997 when the park was dedicated, there wasn't a tree in the park that stood more than 4 feet tall. Now it's hard to see beyond the park's perimeter because of the 500 towering pines, aspens, cottonwoods and other trees that delineate the park.

Bob recounted the story of working daily with local contractor C.D. Johnson to build the park from the ground up. Bob said C.D. would come to the site every morning at 7 a.m. and line Bob out for the day. More than 10,000 cubic yards of dirt was brought in and shaped to create the park's contours and rolling topography.

"I tell people that behind every good garden there is someone who likes to build things," Bob said. "That's me."

At the center of the park is a large open green that creates a stage where music is played, weddings are celebrated and families and friends gather. Sculptures can be found throughout the park, and all of the artwork has been donated. According to Bob, each piece has a different story to tell.

At both park entrances there is a signboard detailing the park's layout, and full-color brochures are available to help visitors enjoy self-guided tours of the property. The park's 60 different gardens are divided into 13 "neighborhoods," and a color-coding system makes them easy to explore.

And one of the coolest things about the Botanic Park is that there is no admission charge. Visitors and locals can enjoy the space for free.

If I had to pick one word to describe the park it would be "serene." You step off the busy Core Trail, and enter a peaceful paradise ready to be explored. From the trail, you only see glimpses of the park, making it necessary to walk through the gates to discover the gardens beyond.

"The little berm along the trail was added because we wanted to make the park more intriguing," Bob said. "And we're so pleased so many people get to enjoy it. We wanted it to be the public's place. And I think it has become that.

"Most of this is nature at work," Bob added. "We just plant and nature takes over."

The park, which is open from dawn to dusk May 1 through Oct. 31, is supported by a volunteer board of directors that oversees the park and raises money to support its operations. For more information, visit http://www.yampariverbotanicpark.org.

I invite readers to suggest places you'd like me to explore, people you want me to meet or activities you'd like me to try. You can reach me at lschlichtman@SteamboatToday.com or 970-871-4221.