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Sun Valley’s Festival Meadows-Could It Get a Makeover?
Friday, August 12, 2022


It was a bit of a walk from the wooden fence bordering Sun Valley’s Festival Meadows to a couple of tents offering a possible future for the pasture.

But that was intentional—an opportunity to allow people to get the feel of the meadow as they envisioned its possibilities.

At the far end was Ben Young and Chase Gouley of BYLA Landscape Architects with renderings of ideas that could take the meadow beyond a rectangular patch of irrigated grass to an attractive park that people might use daily.

“Sun Valley has no parks,” said Nancy Flannigan. “You wouldn’t probably stop here if you were visiting. We want to explore what could be. Right now, we have no plan, just ideas.”

Some planners recommend that about 13 percent of a city area should be devoted to parks. And, while Sun Valley has plenty of public lands bordering its boundaries, parks offer ways for adults and children to enjoy nature and the outdoors in different ways than hiking and biking trails provide.

The five-acre site across from the iconic Red Barn on Sun Valley Road hosts a number of events each year, including the Ketchum Arts Festival, Sun Valley Tour de Force car show, Rebecca’s Private Idaho events, Sun Valley/Ketchum Rotary Club Brewfest and concerts organized by The Argyros and Sun Valley Opera. It also serves as the setting for some weddings.

BYLA’s landscape architects have drawn up renderings of how those events might fit into some of the designs they’d imagined. One rendering, for instance, sets aside room for 140 booths for the Ketchum Arts Festival—more than it has had to date.

“The idea is to create space that allows for multi-use,” said Gouley. “You might, for instance, have the art festival going on but there would still be corners of the park where people could picnic, where kids could hang out in hammocks, where children could play among giant boulders.”

One of the features BYLA architects are proposing is an amphitheater that could seat between 300 and 500 people tucked into the sagebrush-covered hill on the pasture’s north side. It’s possible, they say, that Sun Valley Company might allow them to have a little more land so they can tuck the proposed amphitheater into the hill.

As envisioned, it would feature stone benches with grass between the benches.

“Being up a little higher, the amphitheater would offer some incredible views down valley and of the mountains to the east,” said Gouley. “It could be used for lectures, small concerts, all sorts of things.”

Winding pathways would loop around the area, offering wheelchair accessibility and a more attractive space to feature a line of Sun Valley’s female Olympians. And there would be trees—more trees—to make the area more user-friendly on hot days.

A small parking space might be provided for those with mobility challenges or for the family that drove up from Bellevue with a big picnic basket. There might also be a picnic shelter, a place for sledding and a place to build snowmen during winter.

“Currently, we have no power, no water, no electricity here,” said Gouley. “We’re seeing more demand for a space like this—the Argyros wants to do more outdoor concerts, the ballet company, Sun Valley Museum of Art…”

A steady stream of people turned out to look over the illustrations and offer suggestions. One woman wanted a splash feature for her grandchildren. Another suggested an area of large boulders to offer a focal point and a place for youngsters to do bouldering.

“This is great—such a fun concept,” said one as she studied the proposals.

Karen Jacobsen looked at it from the perspective of an artist involved with the Ketchum Arts Festival. She worried that the city would increase rates to use the space if it redesigned the meadows and added amenities. And she worried whether artists would fight over booth spaces shaded by newly planted trees.

“I love the organic things, and we definitely need water and bathrooms and shade,” she said.

Gouley noted that several people were initially resistant to the idea of making any changes.

“But when you start to talk about ideas, people come around to it,” he said. “We’re talking about bringing in landscape to soften the edges.”

Lisa-Marie Allen said she didn’t know what to think when she first heard about the Sun Valley City Council’s decision to explore ideas for making the area more attractive.

“But, now that I’ve seen the proposals, I think it makes a nice statement that this property will always be here, that it’ll be a nice park in perpetuity,” she said.

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