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June 20, 2013
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John Denver statue needs to find a home

John Denver is in danger of becoming homeless.

A statue of the singer has been on display at the Windstar property in Old Snowmass since its Oct. 13, 2002, dedication — five years after he died.

The property has been sold, and there is a movement among Windstar loyalists and John Denver fans to relocate the statue to somewhere with public access. But where it should go and how the decision will be made has sparked the latest skirmish in a civil war among the environmental activist’s disciples.

The Windstar property is 957 acres. All but 30 acres is protected from development by a conservation easement, held by Pitkin County Open Space and Trails with the Aspen Valley Land Trust. The statue is on the 30 acres, and the presumption is that the new owner will want it removed.

The bronze statue called “Spirit” is an imposing figure. Denver stands 15 feet tall. An acoustic guitar is strapped to his back. His gloved hand and forearm are outstretched for an eagle landing or taking flight.

The base of the statue was surrounded with bricks inlaid in the ground. People were offered the chance to buy a brick for $100 and have an inscription carved. About 260 bricks were purchased in the fundraising effort by the Windstar Foundation to help cover the cost of the statue. Most of the bricks said something that honored Denver directly or indirectly.

The bricks were removed earlier this month, touching off a social-media storm. Allegations were leveled on Facebook sites related to Windstar that the removal of the bricks was the latest mysterious and possibly underhanded maneuver by people in control of the defunct foundation’s assets.

“There’s a lot of questions of who is making these decisions — one or two people?” said Deborah Barton, a Denver-area resident.

She said she was touring the Windstar site Friday with another person when they discovered that the bricks were missing. They called the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office, which sent a deputy to investigate.

Barton took photographs of how the bricks were removed and a mess left behind at the base of the statue. She posted the photos on Facebook.

“These pictures shocked enough people that people I don’t even know are outraged,” Barton said.

J.P. McDaniel, a Littleton resident and longtime volunteer with Windstar, said the bricks were laid into the ground at regular intervals, after several had been purchased. There was a kind of ceremony involved in dedicating them. It was special to the people who contributed.

“That’s why it’s so degrading to have them ripped up,” McDaniel said.

But Karmen Dopslaff, who was a member of the Windstar Foundation’s board of directors before its dissolution last fall, said the big fuss is unnecessary. She also is on the board of the Windstar Land Conservancy, which sold the Windstar property in April.

Dopslaff said the bricks were removed to make sure they are preserved and available to the people who made donations. Painstaking work was done out of “kindness,” she said.

“This was a lot of work,” she said. “Nobody asked us to do it.”

She said her husband and another person dug up each brick, photographed it to show its condition, wrapped it in protective casing and cataloged it. They are in storage in a locked shed on Dopslaff’s property.

Dopslaff said there is no guarantee that whoever takes the statue will want the bricks. In addition, she said, new gardeners are caring for the Windstar grounds, so they didn’t want the bricks chipped.

JoLynn Long, another former member of the Windstar Foundation’s board of directors, said it was useless to try to explain to the critics how the bricks were going to be handled and why. There still would have been uproar.

“There would be no way to satisfy these people,” Long said. “Nothing we do is going to keep them happy.”

So the bricks were removed without prior notice. They will be offered back to the donors at a gathering at the Windstar property in October, when people honor Denver’s accomplishments.

McDaniel said the handling of the bricks is indicative of how the Windstar Foundation board acted for about the past decade. The dissolution of the foundation, the sale of the property and now the handling of the foundation’s assets have been shrouded in secrecy, she said.

The feud makes it look like those with concerns are merely “emotional, impassioned John Denver people,” McDaniel said, when they really are people with connections to Windstar who are concerned with the legacy.

Long and Dopslaff counter that the critics ignore Denver’s legacy of working with one another and striving for peace rather than dischord.

Amid the mutual mistrust, a decision must be made about the future of “Spirit.” Dopslaff said numerous alternative sites have been explored. The John Denver Sanctuary in Aspen has been ruled out.

“The family doesn’t want it there,” she said.

The statue isn’t seen as keeping with the quiet, reflective nature of the property in Aspen, according to Dopslaff.

“It’s not about being an idol there,” she said.

The famed Red Rocks Amphitheater has been approached about displaying the statue, but officials haven’t responded. Denver was a popular performer there.

Denver International Airport and Aspen-Pitkin County Airport have also been raised as possibilities.

“Personally, I think it belongs on the Windstar Conservancy land,” Dopslaff said. Long concurred. On that point, they agree with McDaniel and Barton.

One possible site is restored wetlands known as the John Denver Meadowlands. Dopslaff said the Pitkin County Open Space and Trails program’s approval would be needed to relocate the statue.

scondon@aspentimes.com


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The Aspen Times Updated Jun 20, 2013 06:32AM Published Jun 21, 2013 02:39PM Copyright 2013 The Aspen Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.