ASPEN - Redstone's Elk Park is a park in name only. But that's about to change.
A development plan for the property, two years in the making with input from Redstone residents, won initial approval Thursday from Pitkin County's Open Space and Trails Board of Trustees. A final OK is expected Dec. 18, and the first phase of its development - construction of a pavilion in a corner of the park next to the community's main entrance - is expected to take place next summer.
The 3-acre park, an open space holding, is between the Crystal River and Highway 133 across the highway from the historic coke ovens at Redstone. Bordering the property to the south is the Redstone Boulevard bridge over the Crystal. On the northern edge is Coal Creek, which flows into the Crystal.
A pedestrian bridge links Elk Park to Redstone Park on the opposite side of the river, but there's not much more to Elk Park than an old, vacant cabin that will be removed as part of the development plan. In its place, an open-air pavilion, reminiscent of a railroad depot that once existed in the vicinity, will be constructed, according to the plans. It will contain an interpretive display about the history of the area and present-day Redstone, the tiny community south of Carbondale that was once a coal-mining town.
No cost estimates for development of the park were provided to the open space board Thursday, but the plan for the remainder of the property includes a gravel parking lot and paths through the property, a grassy amphitheater that could hold an ice-skating rink in the winter and an "event field" measuring 150 by 200 feet and planted with low-maintenance turf. A spot to play horseshoes also is planned.
Input from the open space board Thursday focused mainly on restroom facilities and a safe crossing of the highway between the coke ovens and the park. The speed limit there is 50 mph.
Restrooms were purposely left out of the plans for Elk Park, the board was told. Rather, visitors will be encouraged to cross the pedestrian bridge into Redstone Park, where public restrooms are maintained next to Redstone Boulevard, in the heart of town.
"We're trying not to make this a rest stop. We're trying to make this a park," said Gary Tennenbaum, open space land steward.
Struggling Redstone merchants hope the park helps lure people into pulling off the highway and making their way into town. In that sense, directing visitors into town if they want to use the restrooms can only help.
Restoration work on the coke ovens already is enticing people to pull off the highway.
"I can't tell you how many people stop there," said Cathy Montgomery, a member of the Redstone Community Association board.
"Our little town needs help," she added.
What to do about the safety of crossing the highway between the coke ovens and Elk Park, however, stumped open space officials.
"You're putting a major highway between your major attractions," said board member Howie Mallory. "I personally think it's an omission. I don't know how we address it."
Once the park is built, further discussions with the Colorado Department of Transportation are possible, the board was told.
Pedestrians will need to cross the highway responsibly, Tennenbaum said.
"Right now, people do make it across pretty easily," said Redstone business owner Lisa Wagner.