Theres no place like home | AspenTimes.com

Theres no place like home

Aspen Times Weekly

The Roaring Fork Valley is a patchwork of people like no other place, or at least thats what it feels like sometimes. There are senior citizens and babies, Latinos and Anglos, ski bums and bank executives. They live in condos and single-family homes, ranchettes and trailers. And, clustered together in spots like Carbondales South 2nd Street and Aspens East End, they are neighbors. We asked a few of our writers and friends to tell us a bit about their neighborhood. Heres what they had to say.

Aspens East End isnt a neighborhood, really, not like the neat-and-proper West End. The East End, roughly east and north of Original Curve, is a chaotic jumble of shabby old condo buildings, new monster homes and pockets of housing projects for locals. The character of the area is defined by the crazy quilt of too-narrow streets that curve every which way, dead-end wherever they want, and play home to beater cars loaded with recreational equipment and defiant bumper stickers. Its as if the early city planners looked at the perfectly gridded West End and said, Lets do the exact opposite on the other side of town. Its messy as hell, and if you pick the right corner or side street, reasonably vital. Aspens employee housing initiatives probably dont get any better than Snyder Park, a collection of some 20 units where once stood one home. The project was occupied just after the turn of the millennium, and some five years later, the gossip was that not one homeowner had left the neighborhood. Dont know if thats true now; didnt verify if it was true then. But its easy to see why people would hold onto this piece of good fortune: The units are small, but the overall space is not cramped, with all the homes looking out onto a common grounds. The project is tucked away from any main street.Best of all is Snyder Park itself the least known, and possibly greatest patch of green space in all of Aspen. The pond, the waterfalls, the tiny jungle gym, and the brilliant views of Aspen Mountain make for a kids and picnickers paradise. We East Enders also lay claim to the far more popular Herron Park, at the bottom of Queen Street, and we happily share the wading areas, swings and picnic tables with the hordes.Much as the East End seems like an experiment in haphazard street design, it has also turned into an architectural laboratory. A slow bike ride along Park Avenue reveals the most eclectic stretch of buildings in Aspen: Modernist homes packed in next to restored cabins, weird new construction next to elegant old abodes.We could use a few speed bumps on Highway 82, and some more sidewalks. We probably could have done with a more coherent layout of streets. But then the East End might be like the ghost town of the West End. Well take our mess. Stewart Oksenhorn

Aspens West End is still a beautiful and idyllic place to live.But where once there were throngs of children and unpretentious homes and gardens filled with young families, there are now empty streets (except for all the traffic) and monster houses that sit empty most of the year.Jim Hayes and I raised our five children in a miners cottage on East Bleeker Street. The kids had what they called The East Bleeker Street Gang made up of neighborhood pals. They spent hours in the winter skiing together and walking to school in the Red Brick and the Yellow Brick, hiking and picnicking together in the summers. The Hotel Jerome had a big swimming pool in its back garden and most of the kids were from families that held annual passes. They spent hours swimming, diving from the diving board, jumping on the trampoline just having summer fun.In the evenings there were the usual games of tag and kick-the-can, all with shrieks of laughter. Our kids had the run of our neighborhood. Mr. Crosby, the man next door to us, had a house with three-and-a-half lots. He retired to Denver and had us mow the lawn. So that was one yard; and we had a big yard. The neighbors on the corner had a big yard and a porch roof to sit on. The yard of the Aspen Community Church was yet another place to run and play. The kids had their own vegetable and flower gardens and a playhouse in the backyard. There were raspberry patches all through the West End to rob. Wild places down Gliddens Hill were perfect for building forts. Tony Uhl lived up a couple of streets; Tom and Mike Lane lived down by the river. They had wonderful gardens and yards. The Lanes and the Hayes kids even had chickens.In the summer, our children and their pals dug crucibles (little clay pots used in assaying silver). They filled them with candle wax and wicks and sold them to shops to sell to the tourists. They learned where crucibles had been buried or thrown off train cars from old maps and from old-timers. Parents held picnics and cocktail parties in the backyard or they planned picnics up Difficult with several families. Mothers traded baby-sitting; fathers helped one another with construction projects. Old ladies gave flower slips and seedlings and sweet-pea seeds to the young families, and they taught the mothers how to bake bread in the coal stoves that came with the miners cottages. Everyone knew everyone.But all was not sugar and spice and everything nice. Neighborhood dogs ran in packs, biting children and killing little dogs and cats (I am so thankful for the leash law.). The dust from the dirt streets covered the flowers (I am so thankful for the pavement.). There were things in the water that made us sick; the cesspools in the backyards often stopped up (I am thankful for the water and sewer systems.).Those days are gone forever. Rich people and then even richer people bought up the miners cottages and either tore them down or added and added and added to them. There are no longer backyards and gardens huge houses fill the yards from lot line to lot line. The gardens in front of the new homes are lovely and manicured, but nothing like the rambunctious and wildly colorful gardens of yore. I think most of the new second-home people have gardeners who keep their places looking so perfect. Though I have to admit, where the irrigation ditches still flow in the western half of the West End, there grow some of the loveliest creekside gardens youll ever see.What is really sad is that you often dont know who your new neighbors are. They are only here a few weeks out of the year, and then those big monster houses sit empty. There are no neighborhood gangs of kids, because the families with kids all live in employee housing or in other housing scattered through town. Or they live in Basalt or Carbondale or Silt.But we still have our house and our yard. And we still love living in the beautiful and picturesque West End of Aspen. Mary Eshbaugh Hayes

When I was getting ready to move into the mobile home park in Woody Creek about four years ago, my friends kept telling me how wonderful it was because I would fit right it. There seems to be a perception that Woody Creekers are rugged individualists, interesting characters, good ol locals and genuinely unique people. Sure, theyre here, but theyre in Basalt, theyre in Aspen, and Carbondale is heavily laden with them, too. Big deal. For a while I never did find much community here. We have the Tavern and the Post Office, but generally we are all kind of spread out. Theres a group of activists called the Woody Creek Caucus that meets regularly, and they do get involved and they do have a good a grasp of the goings-on of an area they define as Woody Creek (we are in unicorporated Pitkin County). Peg OBrien is one of those amazing people involved in this and she truly is committed to whole process. She is a lot nicer and kinder and more thoughtful than I could ever hope to be, and she seems to know everyone here. (She is also an amazing physical therapist if youre looking for one. In Woody Creek!)When I tell people where my home is they always brighten up and ask if I live over at the Tavern. Luckily, no! Although much community happens over there, it tends to be at the bar and we all know how exciting and meaningful a discussion with a local drunk can be. It also is overpriced (example: An 8-ounce margarita is $8.50 and chips and salsa will cost you $5.35; a 14-ounce margarita at The Cantina is only $8, with free chips and salsa). That said, I do end up going over there as the burgers are absolutely tremendous. Paula is the only waitress that recognizes me, but maybe Im just not that memorable. She is so darn nice and friendly that it really is great when I go over and she is on deck. The mobile home park is home, though. It is so nice to come home after work, chat with the neighbors, pet all the dogs and share our lives. Many people have lived here for more than 20 years. We currently are in the midst of a nightmare project trying to bring our utilities up to code (not a bad idea at all it was pretty bad in here), but things are getting done and soon all the old electric poles will be down, the streets will be paved, the birds will whistle merrily, and well have a cotton candy machine. I was in the housing lottery for years and years and this was my only option to buy without gambling $5 each time a one-bedroom came up. I now have a big yard of my own with a screened gazebo, two bedrooms and a gorgeous garden. Ha, ha, Centennial! Alas, for anyone else trying my routine, the park is now deed-restricted up to its ears. The biggest and grandest addition to Woody Creek is the Community Center, known as WC3. Ann Owsley poured her heart and soul and maybe some of her sanity into getting this up and running. It wasnt easy to overcome red tags, building codes, ornery neighbors in the park, construction and all of the hassles a project like this entails. But Ann pulled through, and she did it for all of us. We have art shows there, meetings, chance encounters and all sorts of events. It is pretty new, but it is doing amazing things. If youd like a taste of Woody Creek, stop by and grab a snack; it is really easy to stop by on your way into work. They have an amazing thing called a Rumble Strip made with either a tortilla or flat bread and all the toppings of your choice to grill it with. The coffee is pretty darn good too, and you never know who youll run into. OK, maybe we all are a little different and unique out here. Hilary Burgess

I live in the Roaring Fork Valleys melting pot. Weve got Navajos Indians living on Ute Street, Mexican-Americans, immigrants from Mexico and Central America, Anglos who drive Hummers, elderly retirees, transplanted South Africans and Brits, a healthy dose of hard-working middle class folks and a bit of white trash.I wouldnt want it any other way. On any given evening I will hear my Navajo neighbors, all construction workers, in animated conversation in their native tongue while crowded around the barbecue after a hard day at work. While walking my dog down the street, a traditional Mexican band will be practicing in the garage of a house a block away.My destination on a stroll is often Crown Mountain Park, developed over the last couple of years behind the Eagle County Community Building. Its rare that I dont run into a neighbor or two. I might not know their names but I recognize them from their dogs.The park is part of the spice of Sopris Village. Young, fit 20- and 30-somethings play Frisbee football in an open field next to a party-crowd of young adults playing kickball on a diamond, all with beers on hand.When Anglos dominate the fields, you see only a handful of Hispanics sprinkled into the crowd. When the Hispanic soccer leagues reserve the fields, the park is nearly devoid of Anglos. (Dont get peeved with me, Im just the messenger.)Winding my way home from the park, Im always amazed to see what project has captured the attention of one of my mechanically inclined neighbors. Hes often stuck under the hood of a snowmobile, car or even an antique milk delivery truck. (His family also manages one of the neatest houses and yards.)We bought our house in Sopris Village, behind the El Jebel City Market before there was an El Jebel City Market, in 1991 or 1992. Realtors then labeled Sopris Village as a great place for a starter home. Well, property values soared while wages crawled, so we aint going nowhere, not that we really care.The neighborhood has transformed during our 16 or 17 years. The rental with the Navajos notwithstanding, my block is stable. Only two houses have changed owners in three years; most have been occupied by the same folks for five or more years. It used to be more transient.Ive noticed that white collar young couples, often with kids, are the most frequent buyers today. They cannot afford the $1 million plus prices of single-family homes in Willits or Elk Run, but they can scrape together the $700,000 or so that buys into Sopris Village.A lot of people realize, like us, that they arent going anywhere, so were seeing more remodeling projects. A handful of the 130 homeowners in the subdivision have popped the tops of ranch-style houses to gain room, and Im sure its just a matter of time before well see the first scraper. Scott Condon

When I first moved to the Roaring Fork Valley in 1994, Basalt already had begun its march of gentrification, but it still felt in many respects like a small, working-class town.You could still find an old-fashioned burger for dinner. Modest homes in the so-called Hill District, Basalts original historic residential area, could be had for $200,000 to $300,000. The Roaring Fork Club had brought its luxury cabins to town and things were certainly changing, but we didnt feel as though we were joining a millionaires club.Thirteen or 14 years later, however, virtually everybody in our neighborhood is a de facto millionaire, simply by owning a Basalt home. We never expected our house to appreciate the way it has and we certainly dont complain about it; still, its saddening to know that our kids are unlikely to be able to afford Basalt as adults.A neighbor commented to me recently that were probably the last generation of Basaltines to enjoy Old Town as an authentic, close-knit community of families and friends who actually mow their own lawns. Nowadays, my kids can wander out the door to a friends house in virtually any direction. Halloween on Homestead Drive is a true social event, as parents accompany their kids to one anothers doorsteps, reacquaint themselves and, perhaps, step in for a cocktail. Every year around Easter, a group of neighborhood moms arrange a Sunday potluck picnic in Cliffs Hillside Park that includes wine for the adults and egg tosses for the kids; everybody brings something to eat and its a great affirmation of a great place to live.By the time all these egg-tossing kids reach home-buying age, however, Basalt is unlikely to exist in this way. (It must already feel like a foreign land to those who grew up there 20 or 30 years ago.) If todays trends continue, the only entry-level, free-market homes available in this valley will be in Glenwood Springs, if they exist at all. And Basalt will be another one of those highly desirable places thats simply out of monetary reach for 95 percent of the populace, a town where the yards are all beautifully manicured but not by the homeowners themselves.Again, this is not a complaint, because this ongoing change isnt anyones fault and cant really be stopped. Perhaps its just a lament: We feel extraordinarily lucky to enjoy this place and to raise our children in these mountains among like-minded people. But its sad that nothing is permanent, including our neighborhoods as we know them.Community life is a fragile commodity. Enjoy it while you can. Bob Ward

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Blue Lake is a well-established neighborhood, where the trees have grown large and people have put down roots. It feels neighborly. Oddly, I really dont know my neighbors.The El Jebel subdivision boasts a nice system of pedestrian paths, a preschool and its namesake lake, replete with a swimming area, sand volleyball court and picnic pavilion, but the true heart of the community, as far as I can tell, is the soccer field. Some summer nights, the park is packed with soccer games and pickup basketball on the courts. Anyone whos not actually playing is seated in the grass, chatting and watching the action.Heres the thing: I dont stop to watch. Instead, I walk the dogs along the edge of the park and admire the goings-on, pleased that it occurs, but feeling a bit disconnected, nonetheless. I dont know the players, and I dont speak Spanish, and soccer nights at the park appears to be mostly a Latino event.Dont get me wrong, I actually like that I live in a racially mixed, working-class neighborhood with its mix of nice homes and mobile homes perched on mostly well-kept lots. The streets are all named after animals, giving ones address an added boost of identification.Its a strangely quiet place during the day, but for the occasional barking dog, because all the kids are in school and the adults are working. Come summer evenings, though, music and scents of grilling waft across property lines, and residents come out to mow their lawns and stroll with their dogs around the lake. Kids play in the cul de sac across from my house and congregate in the park. After dark, things quiet down and Im rarely annoyed by late-night noise.Everyone I pass on my evening walks with the dogs offers a pleasant greeting, but they remain strangers to me, and I to them. I do actually know people who live in Blue Lake and I encounter them from time to time, just not in El Jebel. Were more likely to run into one another when were working in Aspen than we are to cross paths on the home front.Among my immediate neighbors, I only know the residents next door, to either side, by name. One of them presented us with freshly baked cookies when we moved in. When her lawn mower went on the fritz, we loaned her ours. On the other side is a local restaurant owner who never fails to send something extra to our table whenever we dine at his establishment. It is that kind of neighborhood.If theres a drawback, its that its not that kind of neighborhood on a broader scale that I dont know more of my neighbors and that the Anglos and Latinos dont seem to interact on any meaningful level. We are all to blame. Janet Urquhart

Heres the thing you need to know about my neighborhood: It isnt a neighborhood.I live on Missouri Heights, a sprawling, rambling bench of land that starts above El Jebel and runs downvalley all the way to … well, no one seems entirely certain where the Heights ends. Carbondale, probably. Or maybe Spring Valley. The definition isnt important, actually. Its the size that counts. Missouri Heights is a vast (in Roaring Fork Valley terms) swath of rolling terrain that was once beautiful ranchland.It still has its beauty, but ranches … not so much anymore. The ranches mostly have been replaced by ranchettes and subdivisions and trophy homes. And those rugged ranchers have been replaced by, well, people like me.And that gets us back to where we began: Missouri Heights isnt a neighborhood. At the very least, its a lot of neighborhoods. A lot of subdivisions, anyway. New subdivisions, old subdivisions, gated subdivisions, built-out subdivisions, platted-but-unbuilt subdivisions, equestrian subdivisions … you get the idea.Some of the subdivisions are older, cozier if you will. The first houses were built in the 1970s; the lots are about an acre or so. In recent decades, as zoning got stricter, lot sizes grew but with increased territory comes decreased neighborliness.My wife and I live in a subdivision where all the lots are five acres and, in the 15 years weve lived there, we have never had one single child come to our door on Halloween.So, really, how can you call that a genuine neighborhood?On the other hand, just down the road, in Aspen Mesa Estates, where the lots are smaller and the houses a little closer together, theres a school bus stop and, on my way to work, I often see a cluster of kids waiting for the bus.And thats a good sign of a real neighborhood.But then, just above us, is a subdivision thats rapidly filling up with multimillion-dollar spec homes, each standing smack in the middle of its lot, as far from the neighbors as possible. And if you go further up the hill, along the shores of the Spring Park Reservoir are some enormous houses on 35-acre lots. Im sure people live there, but Ive sure never seen any sign of it.And then there are the real ranches few enough, but real enough all the same. Theyre a reminder of what used to be here.So what does this neighborhood of mine have that unites us?Well, one thing, I guess, is change. Thats a one-way street: Ranches turn into subdivisions; subdivisions never turn back into ranches. Foundations keep getting dug. Houses keep getting built. For Sale signs keep getting posted. Prices keep going up. Thats just the way things are. In the 15 years weve lived in our house, every other home in our little subdivision, except one, has sold at least twice.But theres one more thing we all have in common: Mount Sopris.After all is said and done, that magnificent mountain, looming on the southern skyline, exerts a powerful force on everyone who lives in sight of it. It captures your eye and your soul.I dont think anyone who lives on the Heights will deny that, could possibly deny that.And maybe that, above all and after all, makes us a neighborhood.Andy Stone

Sometimes when Im outside my house in Basalts Southside neighborhood, trying to coax a little life out my garden, and I hear a child cry, its hard to tell where the sound is coming from. Is it Anna Claire, the 16-month-old next door, or Jared, the 2-year-old across the street? Or is it my own 17-month-old, Griffin, awakening from his nap?Southside four blocks of single-family homes and duplexes, and a complex of some two dozen townhouses along the main drive is the kind of family-oriented place where you cant help bumping up against older kids skateboarding on relatively traffic-free streets, parents towing tykes in Chariot bike trailers and, yes, the occasional toddler meltdown.Access to recreation and shopping is easy. Downtown Basalt is just a 10-minute walk away, and the Rio Grande trail crosses the end of Southside Drive, just before Basalt High School.But even without kids, Southsides a great place to live. When my husband and I lived in one of the townhouses, before Griffin was born, the complex was sometimes so social we dubbed it Melrose Place. Now that weve moved into our house, just a couple of blocks away, we keep up with many of the neighbors at one of the two parks: One has a playground and a small pond, the other has a large playing field where many of the neighborhood dogs gather for vigorous play sessions. A little more than two years ago, when we traded up from the townhouse to our single-family house, we felt incredibly lucky that we were able to get more space, and a yard, without having to leave the neighborhood. We felt even more fortunate when housing prices in Southside, and all of Basalt, started to soar literally weeks after we closed on the house. Almost a year to the day after we sold our townhouse, our former neighbors sold theirs, identical in size and layout, for almost $200,000 more than we got. (OK, so we didnt feel so fortunate about that, but then we probably could never have afforded our house, either, if wed waited.)Since then, the markets cooled off some. One duplex has been up for sale for more than a year, and a couple of houses are lingering in the listings. And some change in the neighborhood is coming soon. About a half-dozen lots have yet to be built on. The dense Stotts Mill development will go up directly behind our house within the next couple of years. Several other housing/retail projects have been proposed along Southside Drive.Regardless, were staying put even if it gets only harder to figure out whos crying now. Cindy Hirschfeld

At the southern edge of old Carbondale, along South 2nd Street from Capital Avenue to the intersection with Snowmass Drive, is a neighborhood of townhomes and free-standing houses that were all built in the last 30 or 40 years.The homes were built mainly for coal miners working for Mid-Continent Coal & Coke, or Mid-Continent Resources as it was later called.But over the years, as Mid-Continents mines in Redstone closed, the character of the neighborhood has gone through some fairly significant changes.Always considered the inexpensive section of town (to put it in politically correct and kindly terms), the hood is home to working-class families of all the ethnic backgrounds.First to be built, according to Rob Delaney with Pitkin Iron, were the single-family homes on the eastern side of South 2nd. They are lined up along loop streets and cul-de-sacs with names like Sopris Avenue, Maroon Drive, Crystal Circle and Marble Court all taken from area mountains, towns or rivers.Next came what were then called the Crystal River Townhomes, a line of attached row houses fronting South 2nd. Built in the early 1970s, residents here have transitioned from coal miners to blue-collar workers to Latinos to its current mix of working-class folks. A cop and a vacuum cleaner salesman/entrepreneur are believed to be the longest-term residents along that strip, which is locally notorious for, among other things, the fact that it has extra deep parking spaces perpendicular to the street (cars park two-deep in front of the homes). One former resident actually used her parking space as storage, and when questioned by police about the practice, she accused the police of harassment.At one point, the strip of townhomes predominantly was rental housing for Latino families, and some families are still scattered along the line. But a number of the homes have been bought up by Anglos, either as an investment or simply because its a relatively inexpensive home in a town where houses can cost more than a million bucks.Fred Pulver, the entrepreneur and vacuum salesman, has raised eight kids in his four-bedroom row house. He says the eclectic nature of the neighborhood mostly has been a plus.Ive gotten a chance to practice my Spanish a lot, he said, adding that the neighbors all treat each other with respect with regard to loud stereos and other issues common to multi-ethnic neighborhoods.One problem, he said, is that the neighborhood is about 50-50 rentals versus owner-occupied, which has led to congestion. They pack three families into one house sometimes, just to pay the rent, which at $1,500 a month, is one of the lowest rents in town.In my part of the hood Sopris Park Townhomes, up at the Snowmass Drive end we have a large central area known as a common, with carports at the core, lawns between the carports and the homes and townhomes clumped in blocks of anywhere from three to six at the outer edges.Some of our townhomes back up against South 2nd to the east, some against the expanse of lawn surrounding the now-vacated Carbondale Elementary School to the north, some against a narrow line of mobile homes and small houses that line Highway 133 to the west, and some against Snowmass Drive to the south.Its all kind of like a walled medieval village in a way, with our backsides facing out and forming the outer defensive walls.And where the neighborhood was lily-white and all-American when we moved in, it now has taken on a more cosmopolitan, even international flavor.We have a Bulgarian lady, who is expecting her first child in a couple of months with her English husband.We have a few Latinos, ranging from families with lots of kids to construction workers living five or more to a unit owned by absentee landlords.We have middle-class, older Americans looking for a way to sell their homes in a slumping market so they can finally buy that ranch-style house on an acre or two and retire in single-story ease.We have struggling young couples, some with kids and some not even thinking about it yet, using their townhouse as their entry into a market that lately has seemed to leave normal families twisting in the financial winds. John Colson

When people say there are no real neighborhoods left in Aspen, Im pretty sure theyre talking about the West End, not the hood where I live. In just a few block radius, by my count, there are eight employee-housing enclaves: Centennial, Smuggler Trailer Park, Williams Ranch, Williams Woods, Hunter Creek, Lone Pine, Hunter Longhouse and Common Ground (just down the hill are even more such developments; see Stewart Oksenhorns life on the East End). And love em or hate em, employee-housing complexes are places where people live 24 hours a day, 365 days a week. On my street in Centennial (aka the blue roofs) there are families, single adults, young couples and senior citizens; you can find small-business owners, chefs, politicians, preschool teachers, massage therapists and just about every type of other resort-town employee. In the Centennial rental pool, the mix of residents is even more pronounced: seasonal ski bums share front porches with longtime locals hoping to win a home of their home one day.So what does all this mean? For me, it means I live in a neighborhood much like the one I grew up in (albeit without a backyard of my own). I rely on my next door neighbors teenagers to baby-sit my kids; I borrow sugar from the couple downstairs; and on sunny summer afternoons, we often find ourselves sitting outside sipping wine and talking to neighbors while the kids ride up and down the street on their bikes.Its not suburbia (thank God!), but it feels like home. And when I hang out with friends who live in other employee-housing developments, I get the same vibe. Its a vibe that very much reflects the town the real Aspen, not the one of second-home owners and private jets a place where real people live, children are raised and neighborhoods are, indeed, neighborhoods. Jeanne McGovern

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