In Aspen, a beautiful park is never too far away |

In Aspen, a beautiful park is never too far away

Samantha Bear
Special to The Aspen Times
A family relaxes and plays in one of Aspen's downtown pocket parks.
Samantha Bear/Special to The Aspen Times |

In a wide valley that follows the Roaring Fork River surrounded by breathtaking mountains, with large parks that host famous festivals and many athletic fields, Aspen is home to ample outdoor space. But amid these major natural landscapes and landmarks lie quite a few hidden gems: Aspen’s pocket parks. Scattered along trails, nestled by the river, tucked away in neighborhoods or even in Aspen’s core, these parks are easy to pass by if you’re not looking for them.

Pocket parks are “just quiet places for the most part. I think that’s what the community envisioned,” said Aspen’s Open Space and Natural Resource Manager Austin Weiss.

Pioneer Park, in Aspen’s West End, is a prime example. Just a small fenced-in field with a picnic table and a gazebo, this park looks almost incomplete without a contemplative reader.

Connor Park, located right behind City Hall, is a common lunch spot. Others are even smaller, denoted by a solitary bench alongside the Roaring Fork River or even in the core of town, inviting Aspen’s active residents and visitors alike to sit down and take in the view.

Many receive quite a bit more activity, though. Koch Lumber Park, not quite hidden and home to the annual Motherlode Volleyball Tournament, is one of Aspen’s more popular neighborhood parks. It is frequently used to host local events such as the recent Tour de Romp, an annual summer tradition. But on any given day, it is home to dog walkers and families. Set away from any trafficked roads, parents feel more at ease letting their children run around here than at some of the larger parks. Attached to both Ajax and Midland trails, Koch Park’s large grass field also invites hikers and bikers to rest for a bit.

While Koch shines in the professional volleyball spotlight, just a couple short blocks away lies its more modest neighbor, Willoughby Park, which hosts the Aspen Lift Crew’s weekly informal volleyball tournament. Not only are the courts frequently open, the site has history that’s not overlooked by this crowd. Relics of Lift 1, the first lift on Aspen Mountain, remain in the park and lead directly up to its modern replacement, the terminal for Lift 1A. Looking up from this small park, following Lift 1 to Lift 1A and all the way up Ajax, it’s hard not to take a contemplative moment to appreciate the beauty of the mountain, its history and its progress.

Progress is a key element of Aspen’s culture that the Parks Department has embraced, as well.

“The neighborhood parks have been a part of our infrastructure since the ’70s,” said Jeff Woods, manager of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department.

But more recently, the city has been renovating old parks and building new ones to serve not only a recreational purpose but also an environmental one: stormwater control.

Snyder Park, barely noticeable except for a small sign on Midland Ave, is one such example. Passing by, you might spot a small pond fed by a trickling creek. But if you take a moment to veer up this less frequented pathway, you’ll discover the park has much to offer. There is a large picnic area whose boundary is defined by the creek. Just above that is a smaller, more intimate space with a beautiful waterfall, and just above that is a children’s playground.

“If I’m babysitting, I’ll bring the kids here. But really it’s my favorite place to read a book,” local resident Paige Taylor said.

Whether looking for a place to play or to read alone, or even just to eat lunch, there is most likely a beautifully maintained space for that purpose nearby.