“In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we have been taught.” -Baba Dioum, Senegalese Conservationist

Our Mission

To deepen understanding & promote conservation of alpine plants
& fragile mountain environments.

Our Vision

To be the leader in North American alpine conservation through:

  • Our Vail Gardens that inspire people
  • Our conservation research programs and partnerships to conserve alpine environments
  • Our education and interpretation programs to expand public understanding and appreciation of alpine environments to promote community and personal action for conservation of these vulnerable landscapes

Betty Ford Alpine Gardens is an internationally acclaimed botanic gardens known for its alpine horticulture, education and conservation. Located in the small resort town of Vail, Colorado which attracts a global audience for its skiing and outdoor recreation, Betty Ford Alpine Gardens is the highest elevation botanical garden in North America situated at 8,200’ (2,700 m) in the central Rocky Mountains. The Gardens attracts more than 100,000 visitors annually to see its unique collection of alpine and mountain plants collected from around the world.

Strategic Plan

Sustainability Handbook

Annual Report

History of the Gardens & Betty Ford

Click to read more about Betty Ford at the Gerald R Ford Library & Museum website.

Marty Jones, Helen Fritch and Betty Ford turning the first shovel of dirt in the Gardens
Banner: Helmut Fricker (left), Helen Fritch (center), Betty Ford and Marty Jones at the grand opening of Betty Ford Alpine Gardens

Board of Trustees

    • Betty Ford
      Honorary Director in Memoriam
    • Helen Fritch
      President & Founder in Memoriam
    • Susan Frampton
    • Gwen Scalpello
    • Mary Beth Ottley
    • Kelly Bronfman
    • Kathy Borgen
    • Doe Browning
    • Pedro Campos
    • Holly Elliott
    • Jeanne Fritch
    • Sheika Gramshammer
    • Dick Liebhaber
    • Jenny Maritz
    • Jennifer Mason
    • Town of Vail
    • Liz Paxson
    • June Rossetti

    Mrs. Ford said in 1991, “As someone who has always loved gardening, it fills me with a great sense of serenity. Just walking along these winding paths, with the abundance of beauty so close to the touch, brings an introspection & sense of calm too often missing in our lives.”

    “When I was a little girl, I spent many cherished hours with my mother in her garden,” Mrs. Ford said. “She wisely marked off an area for my very own plants. As we worked together, she nurtured me as she nurtured my love of gardening. This nurturing mother-daughter relationship, with its love growing strong in a garden, has been passed along to my daughter, Susan, & her two girls.”

    Founded in 1985 by the Vail Alpine Garden Foundation & named  in 1988 in honor of former first lady Betty Ford. Located in Ford Park next to the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater–named in honor of her husband, the 38th president of the United States–the Gardens made a fitting tribute to this remarkable former first lady.

    The original idea came through the collaboration of two longtime Vail residents, landscape designer Marty Jones & Helen Fritch, a gardening hobbyist who listened to Jones’ ideas for a botanical garden during an automotive journey through the Colorado High Country in 1983. “To a gardener like me,” says Fritch, now the Gardens’ president emeritus, “it sounded like a good idea & I got involved.” As the organization expanded in size & commitment, an executive director & garden staff were hired. Currently, volunteers & docents support a five-member staff with more than 3,500 hours annually maintaining the Gardens, giving educational tours, running the gift shops & working at promotional & educational events.

    Today, Betty Ford Alpine Gardens is comprised of four distinct sections; Mountain Perennial Garden (1989), Mountain Meditation Garden (1991) Alpine Rock Garden (1999), & the Children’s Garden (2002.) Our plant collection showcases more than 3,000 species of high-altitude plants, many of which are from the Rocky Mountains, as well as some from other regions of the world.

    Like most public gardens there is a strong emphasis on education. Children’s programs are offered most days of the week as well as an annual butterfly launch for over 500 Eagle & Lake County third graders. We are one of the first public gardens to offer horticulture therapy classes to those seeking the restorative powers of connecting with nature. Docent led tours give visitors an in-depth insight into the world of alpine plants.

    The Gardens has a strong commitment to plant conservation & in partnership with other organizations such as the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, Botanic Gardens Conservation International & the Colorado Natural Heritage Program, works to study and conserve Colorado’s rare flora.

    “When we first talked of plans for the Vail Alpine Gardens, I never dreamed it would grow and flourish to such magnitude. But as each season brings new blooms & greater beauty to the Gardens, they become a source of infinite pride & pleasure for all of us,” Mrs. Ford said. “I visit as often as I can, but it is never often enough. Each week provides a different, more beautiful picture.”

    A World of Alpines

    At 8200′

    Founded in 1985 by the Vail Alpine Garden Foundation & named in 1988 in honor of former first lady Betty Ford, an internationally acclaimed collection of alpine plants in the Rocky Mountains

    Gardens Staff

    Nicola Ripley

    Executive Director

    Nanette Kuich

    Education Director

    Melissa Ebone

    Development Director

    Nick Courtens

    Curator of Plant Collections

    (970) 476-0103 x6

    Born in the British Isles, Nicola learned a love of alpine plants in the Scottish and Welsh Mountains. Nicola has a BS in Biology and an MS in Ecology. Nicola has traveled widely giving talks, collecting seed and studying alpine flora.
    Nicola has been with the Gardens for almost twenty years in different capacities and has been the Director for 7 years. Nicola was Board Member of the American Public Gardens Association for 7 years serving a 2 year term as President. She is the recipient of the 2016 Award of Merit from the North American Rock Garden Society and the 2017 Service Award from the American Public Gardens Association.

    Nanette became a part of Betty Ford Alpine Gardens with the design & building of the Education Center, completed in 2015, & has been responsible for all educational programming. She holds a Master’s Degree in Science Education Free Choice Learning from Oregon State University. 

    Nanette grew up on the East end of Long Island, NY, received a B.A. in Earth & Space Sciences from State University of New York at Stony Brook, & taught secondary science and math for two years before heading to west to attend graduate school at the University of Texas, Dallas.  She worked as a geologist & geochemist for two major oil companies for 19 years before moving to Colorado.  Plant science became an interest through the Colorado State University Extension’s Master Gardener & Native Plant Master Programs, where she instructed for both.

    “What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?” The answer to this question brought Melissa Ebone, Development Director, to Colorado almost a decade ago. She discovered the call of the mountains during her time as a counselor at Cheley Colorado Camps in Estes Park, CO & had dreams to make the West her full-time home.

    She recently graduated from ILD, the Institute for Leaders in Development, a professional program for fundraisers through Denver University. When she’s not in the office, you can often find her guiding backcountry & international expeditions, sharing her love of discovery & the outdoors with young people from around the world. Before arriving at Betty Ford Alpine Gardens, Melissa was leading the fundraising & community partner efforts at the Children’s Hospital Colorado Burn Camps Program. This is a rehabilitative medical speciality program designed to help pediatric burn survivors heal together in a community of their peers. Wherever she is, Melissa loves building community & creating good together.

    (970) 476-0103 x4

    Born in upstate NY, Nick grew up on an organic vegetable CSA farm where he developed a passion for plants & growing. Nick graduated from Longwood Gardens Professional Gardener Training Program & made his way west for a summer internship at Betty Ford Alpine Gardens in May 2010. Nick is responsible for growing, maintaining, & developing the plant collections. He has traveled around the world studying rock gardens & alpine plants & has given several presentations to plant societies & botanic gardens.

    Ellen Lorenz

    Operations Manager

    Colin Lee


    Jeri Powles

    Volunteer Engagement Coordinator

    Susan Swimm

    Gift Shop Buyer & Manager

    (970) 476-0103 x3

    Originally from Columbus, Ohio, Ellen has spent over ten years in Colorado developing her love of alpine environments. Her previous positions at an environmental nonprofit & wedding planning company gave her passion for sustainability & organization. 
    Ellen has been part of a team that won many Wedding Wire awards based on their execution of detail & experience, sat on a panel for her knowledge on nonprofit databases & is a member of the Pika Project. She graduated from the University of Colorado,  Boulder with a degree in Environmental Science & Philosophy. Bring your furry family members by the Education Center to meet her!


    My interest in plants all began my junior year in high school when my science teacher asked me to help choose a subject to learn about for a semester in our class. With inspiration from my mother’s garden & trips to botanic gardens, I chose botany. Little did I know, that simple choice would set me on a career path to become a horticulturist at Betty Ford Alpine Gardens.

    As soon as that semester in high school ended I knew I’d be studying plant science in college. I started my collegiate studies at Metropolitan State College of Denver studying plant biology, & eventually transferred to Colorado State University in Fort Collins where I obtained my degree in horticulture & a minor in botany. I found Betty Ford Alpine Gardens in 2016 when I was granted an internship opportunity during my junior year at CSU, & each summer since then I have been asked to come back as seasonal staff to help the gardens continue to grow & bloom. I am honored to become a part of BFAG’s full time staff & to continue my pursuit in becoming a professional horticulturist. I look forward to exploring my potential here at the gardens as well as exploring more of the Rocky Mountains that I’ve always called home.  I am very grateful & humbled in where I am & how I got here, & I look forward to working with all types of plants & people in this amazing alpine environment we have here in Vail, Colorado.

    A Midwest girl who wanted to live in the mountains since early childhood, Jeri found the Gardens not long after moving here permanently. She joined the staff in 2011 as manager of the schoolhouse gift shop & become the Volunteer Engagement Coordinator in 2014. A Colorado Master Gardener, Jeri has a degree in secondary education from The University of Iowa, has had several careers including being a successful entrepreneur & has volunteered for several organizations & nonprofits throughout her life.

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