Crown Mountain Park: crown jewel of the midvalley
EL JEBEL ” The name officially is Crown Mountain Park. It easily could be called the Crown jewel of the midvalley.
Crown Mountain Park, in the heart of El Jebel, has been a long time coming. The concept was first discussed in 1994. Midvalley voters approved financing for a plan in November 2002. And the park finally had its grand opening in July 2007.
It was worth the wait, most park users agree.
The park blends high-intensity, activity-oriented uses like a kids’ playground, soccer fields, baseball diamonds and tennis courts with more passive amenities like picnic shelters, strategically placed benches, a concrete walking path and a hefty amount of acreage that is simply planted in native grasses.
On any given summer evening, at least when the weather is good, all the facilities are in use. One recent, sun-drenched evening there was a co-ed Frisbee football game on a mowed field. Two separate groups of Latino men were using the soccer goals to run three-on-three drills. Pre-Little League boys were practicing batting and base running skills at one of the two ball diamonds. A burly fellow practiced lay-ups at the six-hoop basketball court. And a dozen or so toddlers crawled around the mix of playground equipment that creates a kids’ paradise.
“I didn’t know it would be this widely used,” said Ross Stepp, executive director of the Crown Mountain Park and Recreation District.
The playground is one example of that success. It gets so much use that the district decided it needed to invest now in mature trees to provide shade rather than wait for the ones it originally planted to mature. Six towering cottonwoods, roughly 40 feet tall, were added this spring.
Crown Mountain is more than a park. It has helped create the midvalley identity; it put the “there” there.
“I think it’s really key in giving the El Jebel community a central meeting place,” said Mark Fuller, a consultant who helped the recreation district create and execute its plan.
The playground, in particular, has proved invaluable to the soaring number of families in the Basalt and El Jebel areas, he noted. “I don’t think there is a young mother within 20 miles that hasn’t made use of that,” he said.
Kellie Smith of Blue Lake started the Basalt Mom’s Group two years ago. The moms pick a place to meet with their young kids each week. Crown Mountain Park has evolved into a favorite, Smith said. The moms can meet at the playground and bring bicycles or tricycles for a trip around the looping, 1-mile trail. The families often bring a picnic. The access is convenient and the facilities are excellent, Smith said.
Dorothy Howard, director of the Basalt recreation department, said the ball diamonds were vital to easing a shortage of facilities in the growing midvalley. The dirt infields are level, the dugouts and backstops are well-maintained and the whole area is kept clean.
“It’s a great facility over there,” she said. “They deserve [credit] because they do a good job.”
Nearly 200 boys from Aspen to Glenwood Springs participate in Little League baseball in the Three Rivers League. “Those fields [at Crown Mountain Park] are essential to Little League,” said Laurel Lamont, league president.
A high demand for ball fields in the valley creates a need to share. Little League games are scheduled in April and May to make way for adult and other recreation leagues in summer. The two new fields at Crown Mountain helped ease the shortage somewhat, Lamont said. One nice quality of the Crown Mountain ball diamonds is the base can be set at different lengths, catering to different aged players.
The midvalley fields bailed the Aspen teams out of a jam this spring. Games couldn’t be held on fields in Aspen because of cold and snowy conditions. So games were switched to the comparatively warmer climate of El Jebel.
In addition to the playground and athletic facilities, there is a large shelter that can be rented out for events as well as a smaller, traditional picnic shelter. There haven’t been any weddings at Crown Mountain yet, but a wedding party did hold its rehearsal dinner there.
Stepp said there are only seven or eight days all summer that one facility or another isn’t rented out or reserved.
And though midvalley residents haggled over the plan for the property for years, they ultimately compromised on the blending of intensive and passive uses.
The first phase of the park is nearly complete. It includes the playground; two ball diamonds; two soccer fields; two tennis courts; a basketball court; two volleyball pits; horseshoe pits; the trail; an enclosed dog park; two shelters and the open space.
Two additional tennis courts are being built, as is a bicycle trick-park that will open by fall.
That is perhaps the most that will ever be built at Crown Mountain Park. “What you see is what you get,” Stepp said.
The master plan calls for a skate park, an amphitheater and a permanent water feature where a settling pond is now located. However, those features will require additional funding, so their fate is in question.
Another part of the property is being eyed by a separate group as the possible location of a midvalley recreation center. A citizens group recently was formed to pursue that idea.
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This summer in Aspen is likely to include indoor and outdoor concerts, maskless gatherings and no state or county-mandated restrictions on social distancing at restaurants or anywhere else.