Aspen parks to get some TLC |

Aspen parks to get some TLC

Scott Condon

The “iron man” may finally get his due.A city park was named after Francis Whitaker in 2000. Now some special touches are being proposed to rightfully honor the Aspen icon.Whitaker, who died in 1999, was a master blacksmith who created art from metal. He constructed intricate works such as a columbine that graces an Aspen cemetery and labor-intensive fencing that connected modern Aspen to its Victorian past.He was also an advocate for parks and open space, as well as an Aspen city councilman from 1970-73. He helped pass the city’s first open space tax 36 years ago.Friends of Whitaker are heading an effort to add features to the park that will honor Whitaker beyond just using his name. “There is a lot of community love coming back into this park,” said Dick Arnold, a former Aspenite who now lives in Telluride.Arnold created a bronze bas-relief that shows Whitaker using a hammer and anvil. A plaque will honor Whitaker by describing him as “Devoted to preserving and nourishing the craft of artist blacksmithing. Nature lover. Mountaineer. Conservationist. Community planner and visionary. Pursuer of perfection. ‘The iron man.'”Bob Myers, a former student of Whitaker’s and owner of Myers & Co. Architectural Metals, is heading efforts to add a centerpiece gate and fence at the park, formerly known as Bass Park. The park is at the intersection of Monarch Street and Hyman Avenue.The proposed budget for the renovation of the park is about $247,000. The Aspen City Council expressed enough support Tuesday night to keep pursuing the project. A yet-to-be-determined amount of public funds will go into the project. Myers, Arnold and associates are also seeking private funds and in-kind work.Francis Whitaker Park isn’t the only park that might be spruced up. Maggie DeWolf has offered to fund four large flower gardens and lots of much-needed TLC at what might be Aspen’s oldest park. She said the improvements to Pioneer Park are overdue.”We paid a lot of money for that little piece of land. We might as well make the best of it,” she said.The park, on Bleeker Street in Aspen’s West End, faced development pressure in 1996. A citizens group led by Les Holst and DeWolf raised $500,000 to buy it and donate it to the city.After that donation, the city put up a sign that said “Pioneer Park” and “that was about it,” said Aspen Councilwoman Rachel Richards. “It’s always looked a little abandoned,” she said.DeWolf wants to refurbish a dilapidated gazebo and historic fence. “Nonhistoric evergreen shrubs” that close in the park would be removed. DeWolf would also fund four large gardens featuring flowers like lilies, columbines, delphiniums and irises. She would pay to maintain the gardens as long as she lives, she said.Neighbors initially opposed the scale of what they thought was proposed but expressed support for the plan once they learned about details at a City Council work session Tuesday night. “We were clueless,” admitted one neighbor.The City Council gave its blessing to the city parks department to keep exploring the project with DeWolf.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is