Aspen will keep Main St. flag-free
Aspen’s Main Street light poles won’t be open to flags celebrating annual events, at least for the time being, the City Council agreed after a lengthy, late-night debate Monday.
Instead, nonprofit groups will be allowed to fly a single flag at Paepcke Park, pending a formal policy to be developed by city staff next year, the council agreed in a 3-2 vote.
In the meantime, the council also agreed its present policy regarding Main Street flags will stand: U.S. and Colorado flags may fly on appropriate holidays and flags signifying anniversaries of local groups – 25 years at a minimum – will be allowed. Left unclear was the status of the annual Winterskl flags.
Prompting the discussion was a request by the Aspen Gay and Lesbian Community Fund to fly rainbow flags on Main Street during Gay Ski Week next month. The rainbow flag has become a symbol of gay pride.
“Aspen has the only Gay Ski Week in the United States,” said local Greg Hughes. “It celebrates Aspen on an international stage as being open to diversity.”
Proponents noted the city just last month allowed World Cup flags to fly on Main Street. When group members pressed the council for an explanation on why Gay Ski Week should be treated differently than World Cup, the discussion threatened to get ugly.
“I don’t see resorts around the world recruiting your event,” said Councilman Tom McCabe.
McCabe had suggested the city ban all future flags on Main Street light poles except the flags of the United States, Colorado, Aspen and Pitkin County.
Allowing exceptions, he argued, paves the way for all sorts of groups to request use of the poles, and the city won’t be in a position to deny them.
“If you open the door to this, I think that you won’t ever be able to close it again and you’ll regret it forever,” he said.
“Suppose the American Nazi Party wants to have Nazi Ski Week. We’d have to have Nazi flags up and down Main Street,” said Councilman Tony Hershey.
Nonetheless, Hershey said he supported the request to fly rainbow flags and suggested the city allow it and set the policy later.
City Attorney John Worcester urged the council to decide on a policy for use of the poles first.
“Once you open it up to use by the public, then you certainly can’t discriminate on who wants to use it,” he said.
Mayor Rachel Richards said she couldn’t go along with McCabe’s suggestion to shut off use of the poles to all groups. There should be room to fly flags for special events, like the 50th anniversaries of the Aspen Music Festival and Aspen Institute, she said. Exceptions were made for both of those occasions.
“The issue is really the commercialization of Aspen. It’s how much and how often you want to promote this week’s marketing event for the town,” she said. “Do you want flags on Main Street 40 to 50 weeks a year?”
In the end, representatives of the Community Fund agreed flying the rainbow flag at Paepcke Park will be acceptable.
Council members indicated they’d be willing to allow the rainbow flags on Main Street in 2002, when Gay Ski Week celebrates its 25th anniversary.
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Amid the pre-Thanksgiving gloom of grim pandemic news here in Aspen, across Colorado and the mountain west came a small but significant dose of hope in the unlikely form of an Aspen Music Festival and School announcement.