City hopes to repair ‘pocket parks’ |

City hopes to repair ‘pocket parks’

M. John Fayhee

In a city surrounded on all sides by hundreds of thousands of national forest acres, it is sometimes difficult to remember the little islands of tranquility within.They are referred to as “pocket parks,” but in actuality they are unique places located in quiet corners of Aspen where people can rest, reflect, doze or eat lunch – without having to fire up the SUV and drive to a forest trailhead.Two of Aspen’s pocket parks – Pioneer and Francis Whitaker – have fallen into a degree of disrepair that has town officials concerned. If all goes well, volunteers will help rejuvenate both in the next year.”I’m very excited about this,” Mayor Helen Klanderud said. “I’m a staunch advocate of small, quiet and passive parks. Aspen has a lot of pocket parks, and many are not very well-known. It’s easy sometimes to focus on the big parks and open-space parcels, but these smaller parks are very important, too.”Francis Whitaker Park, which until 1999 was known as Bass Park, was renamed after one of Aspen’s most prominent and most colorful characters, according to Stephen Ellsperman, deputy director for parks and open space for Aspen.”Francis Whitaker was an astounding man,” Ellsperman said. “He was credited by many with resurrecting the art of decorative blacksmithing, and he considered it as important to teach blacksmithing to others as it was to actually blacksmith. He served on the City Council, and he was very active in conceiving and implementing the city’s open space and parks programs.”The city leased the park for many years, Ellsperman said. But when Aspen voters passed a half-cent sales tax increase that was dedicated toward parks and open space acquisition, the city was able to purchase the property for $3.8 million.But the park almost didn’t survive. Aspen voters also had to decide in 2000 whether the land ought to be retained as a pocket park or used for affordable housing.”A lot of people became involved in the park’s preservation at that time,” Klanderud said. “Francis lived right across the street from the property, and I feel it was a fitting tribute to keep the land protected.””That park is a great tribute to a great man,” Ellsperman said.But city attention on Francis Whitaker Park waned.”A group of citizens started getting actively interested in the state of the park about three years ago,” said Jeff Woods, manager of parks and recreation for the city. “They have been spearheading the effort to rejuvenate it. The City Council has been very supportive, and they earmarked $65,000 for the project this winter.”But, said parks planner and project manager Scott Chism, that’s not enough.”The main points of concern are that the irrigation system is in disrepair, and a lot of the trees need attention,” Chism said. “We estimate that the total project costs will be about $276,000-$280,000.”Donations from the public will have to make up the difference, Woods said.”We have a very generous citizenry in Aspen,” he said. “The John Denver Sanctuary, which cost about $75,000, was paid for entirely by private interests. And private interests raised about $8.5 million of the $19 million for the Aspen Recreation Center. So, we’re confident that we can raise sufficient funds.”People are also donating time and expertise. The proposed entryway to Francis Whitaker Park, for example, will be designed and built at cost by one of Whitaker’s ex-students, Bob Myers of Basalt.The parks department would like to begin the Whitaker Park rejuvenation by fall, with a completion date next spring. But that will be contingent upon raising sufficient funds, Chism said.Pioneer Park is another of Aspen’s little-known jewels, Klanderud said. Located on the West End, Pioneer Park is home to a small gazebo and what Ellsperman calls some of the nicest trees in the city.But, like Whitaker Park, it is now in need of attention. So Maggie DeWolf, who lives near the park, is stepping up.”I give Maggie all the credit in the world,” Ellsperman said, “because she has taken care of 95 percent of the money. She also plans to endow the park for maintenance.”Work on the Pioneer Park rejuvenation could begin as early as May and will likely be complete by fall, Chism said.A donation hotline for the parks is 429-2029.

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