City relaxes parks policy | AspenTimes.com

City relaxes parks policy

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

With Jazz Aspen Snowmass and other special events vying to use Aspen’s parks, a city policy prohibiting new events on several of its playing fields doesn’t make much sense, the City Council agreed Monday.

Instead, proposed events should be evaluated on their individual merits, the council concurred during a marathon retreat held yesterday at the Aspen Alps.

The old rule ? no new events at Wagner, Rio Grande and Iselin parks ? will be lifted in favor of new criteria with which to judge each request to hold an event at a park. City staffers were directed to come up with the criteria and bring them to the council for review at a future date.

“I think we absolutely should embrace special events and then decide on a case-by-case basis what’s appropriate at what locale,” said Councilman Tony Hershey.

The old policy posed a quandary for the city’s Special Events Committee, which would be forced to turn down several anticipated requests for big events in the parks next year, including a proposal from Jazz Aspen Snowmass to hold its June Festival at Rio Grande Park, noted City Clerk Kathryn Koch, chairwoman of the committee.

The policy also flies in the face of the council’s commitment to help foster new special events with a portion of its marketing dollars, noted City Councilman Tim Semrau wryly.

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The city has already made a practice of making exceptions to the ban on new events, allowing snow polo and a dance last winter at downtown parks, added Mayor Helen Klanderud.

The polo tournament, held at Rio Grande Park last winter, will be held at Wagner Park later this month.

“In general, we should have policies we keep instead of setting policies and then making exceptions,” Semrau said.

Dropping the policy, he added, won’t mean anything goes. “Anyone’s free to apply for a special event,” he said. “That doesn’t mean they’re going to get it.”

The city is expecting to receive applications for an arts and crafts fair at Wagner Park next August and an antiques fair at Rio Grande Park next September, according to Koch. Organizers of both are being courted by the Aspen Chamber Resort Association, she said.

Koch said she is trying to steer the arts and crafts event to the Mill Street pedestrian mall or Paepcke Park. The antiques fair, she pointed out, could damage the turf at Rio Grande Park right before Ruggerfest weekend.

“If an event screws it up for two or three weeks for the playing fields, what have you accomplished?” Hershey pondered.

The potential for turf damage at parks used extensively for youth and adult athletics was the reason for the old no-new-events policy in the first place, said City Manager Steve Barwick.

“You will degrade the quality of the grass out there. It’s going to be a trade-off. There’s nothing you can do about it,” he said.

The impact to the park is but one factor the city will have to weigh when it considers each event, Councilman Tom McCabe said.

Other likely considerations will be the event’s tourist appeal during slow periods, whether it raises funds for a charitable cause and whether that cause is local, Barwick said.

Klanderud cautioned the council against risking the health of the parks to accommodate events as a “knee-jerk reaction” to the current economic downturn.

[Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com]

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