Benches offer rest, remembrance |

Benches offer rest, remembrance

Sarah S. Chung

What are Aspen’s most popular amenities? You may be sitting on one right now.

For many residents and visitors to Aspen, the memorial benches placed around town are simply a means to enjoy a sunny day or take load off, but for others, the benches represent much more.

Started about 30 years ago with construction of the downtown mall, there are now about 100 memorial benches scattered throughout the city and 50 to 60 people on a waiting list to “buy” a bench.

For the most part, the friends and family buy a memorial bench in remembrance of a departed loved one, said Karma Bourgquist of the parks department. But there are also a number of benches given as gifts to people to commemorate happier occasions.

“The ones for children are always the hardest, but all the stories touch you and make you really glad the program’s around,” Bourgquist said. “One daughter recently bought one for her mother who just died, in a park where she used to play in as a child. … Another person just wanted one to celebrate his wife’s birthday.”

The cost of a memorial bench is $1,700, which basically covers the cost of the sturdy wooden bench, the engraving and its installment. About five benches are ordered per year; generally the buyer has his or her first choice in location.

There has been discussion of charging enough to bring in revenue from the benches for the parks department. But parks director Jeff Woods says keeping the benches affordable is a bigger priority than generating cash flow.

“This is not just for the wealthy. Sometimes people have a tough time scraping $1,700 together, but at this point, it’s affordable to everyone,” Woods said.

The benches offer an obvious amenity to users of the city’s parks and walkways, but Woods sees them as providing a much greater community service than just a place to sit.

“They really create stewardship for the parks system,” Woods said. “Each bench has a very high emotional value, so there are many more sets of eyes watching out for and caring for the parks.”

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