Yampa River Botanic Park hosts annual conference
Steamboat Springs — Situated between the flora rich Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area and the lush and rocky Flat Tops, Steamboat Springs is home to a variety of plant species.
“We have a really unique mountainous environment here in our valley,” said Gayle Lehman, supervisor of Yampa River Botanic Park, which is situated along the Yampa River Core Trail in Steamboat. “Some of these species grow only here and nowhere else in the world.”
Due to the rich variety of plants found in Steamboat, the North American Rock Garden Society’s Rocky Mountain Chapter will host its annual meeting here this weekend. The society will hear guest speakers and tour steppe to Alpine habitats.
Since the Yampa River Botanic Park opened in 1997, the local nonprofit park has been associated with the society.
“It was quite a honor to have them approach us,” said Lehman after learning the society wanted to host this year’s meeting in Steamboat. “We started almost 20 years ago, and it was really hard to tell what was going to happen here … with those little trees and piles of dirt. But I think people are starting to see what the vision was.”
The botanic park sits on 6 acres of donated land that was once a horse pasture. At an altitude of 6,680 feet, the park experiences drastic climate changes throughout the year, leaving on average, only 60 days without a killing frost. Yet, this challenging climate doesn’t hinder abundant growth or the myriad events this beautiful venue hosts.
“It’s actually a very unique and diverse botanic park in the state of Colorado,” board member John Quinn said about the park. “There’s a huge variety of species there both native and otherwise.”
In 2013, the botanic park was given a grant to purchase rock and create a new rock garden. Though it was already host to multiple rock gardens, the park’s newest, and perhaps most elaborate, is Crevice Garden. This is the second summer the garden is flourishing with plants.
The park’s hosting of the society’s conference is important in terms of exposure and economic impact. With an additional 250 registered participants in town from Wednesday thorugh Monday, the Steamboat community will see an uptick in hotel stays and dining throughout the week.
“There really is an economic engine at the park,” Quinn said. “I think people consider it to be a nice amenity but don’t realize that people do come to Steamboat specifically for the park, and this (event) is a great example.”
Lehman estimates the park’s annual visitation between 20,000 to 30,000 guests. Actually tracking visitor numbers is difficult, because the park is free and entry is not regulated.
“As we become a more mature garden and people actually travel around looking for gardens, I think we are becoming more known,” she explained. “I’m hoping to see a nice increase in our membership from these folks, because they are interested in what we do, and they understand how valuable it is to have people support us.”
In addition to time spent at the Yampa River Botanic Park, conference attendees also will participate in hikes across the area and enjoy a garden tour in North Routt. The conference itself will be held at the Colorado Mountain College’s Alpine Campus.
The park is open from dawn to dusk Monday through Friday from May 1 through Oct. 31.
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