Leadville Superfund site turned into sports complex | AspenTimes.com

Leadville Superfund site turned into sports complex

Colleen O'Connor
The Denver Post/AP
Aspen, CO Colorado
**FOR USE IN WEEKEND EDITIONS OF MANY 2-3**In this photograph taken on Tuesday, April 21, 2009, 7-year-old Sam Frykholm runs across the dirt field that will be turned into a new $1.5-million public sports complex. In the middle of the economic recession, the small town of Leadville will unveil a brand-new synthetic turf field, said to be the highest in the United States, and finally kids will have a real place to play soccer, a passion that's exploding in the community. The town raised $1.2 million for this grassroots effort. (AP Photo/The Denver Post, Helen H. Richardson) ** MAGS OUT; TV OUT; INTERNET OUT **
AP | The Denver Post

LEADVILLE, Colo. ” The mass of mud, which residents here call their “field of dreams,” sits atop a Superfund site where a zinc smelter once reigned.

Despite endless predictions of failure, it will be transformed this summer into an emerald-green sports complex, the first public field in Lake County ” and one that boasts spectacular views of fourteeners Mount Elbert and Mount Massive.

“I was very naive in my understanding of how simple it would be to get it done,” soccer dad Peter Frykholm said. “I thought it would be a slam-dunk.”

Instead, it took four years to raise $1.5 million for the field, with its adjacent playground. Supporters are still about $25,000 short, but construction will begin this month and the field is expected to open in August. For the first time, Leadville’s high school teams can play after dark because they will have a field with lights.

Kids and families will have a place to play Pop Warner football and Ultimate Frisbee.

But back at the beginning, the folks who dreamed up the idea almost got laughed out of town.

“I told my wife, ‘I think they’re in a pipe dream,'” said Brad Palmer, Lake County’s public-works director. “It seemed unachievable.”

Beyond the cost, there was the obstacle created by the town’s self-image.

“Most people here work in resort communities, those lush and beautiful places, then come home to living in the trailer park with 16 other people,” said Alice Pugh, director of Full Circle, a nonprofit that helps Leadville’s at-risk families.

“We’ve been a Superfund site, so there’s always that feeling of contamination that pervades,” she said. “Mentally and psychologically, people have felt at the bottom of the pile.”

Leadville made headlines last year when officials declared a state of emergency over a blocked mine-drainage tunnel that threatened to spew a billion gallons of toxic water.

Then came news that the reopening of a molybdenum mine was on hold.

But bad news inspired donors.

“Leadville took a couple blows, and people were ready to put their beliefs, and their pocketbooks, into something tangible to believe in,” said Kate Bartlett, who spearheaded the fundraising.

More than $329,000 came from insiders, from local governments to families and business owners. People held bake sales, yard sales and a fiesta dinner. Foundations kicked in grants.

When the last big chunk of money arrived last fall, people sprang into action, including accountants, grant writers, retired geologists, immigrants and students from Colorado Mountain College’s heavy-machinery classes, who learned to drive dump trucks and soil compactors.

Norm Schroeder ” the tobacco-chewing bulldozer driver for the county’s road-and-bridge crew ” ran the mission, working 16-hour days for two months straight.

“Once we dove in with both feet,” he said, “we knew we had to push like crazy to hit the end of the target.”

Along with disposing of old washing machines, bags of trash and piles of slag, they had to dig up the smelter’s massive concrete foundation: more than a block long, 5 feet wide and 10 feet deep.

They worked through cold and lightning storms, finishing just before snow buried the town.

“Once the dirt got moved and the trees cut and the lots leveled, people’s interest really rose,” said Palmer, who donated county equipment and workers to help get the job done.

Late last month, on the first warm spring day, kids were playing soccer everywhere. The girls varsity soccer team practiced on the high school field, dodging gopher holes and mud puddles.

A group of Latino youths played soccer on a concrete area where two trash cans and two rocks served as goals.

Honduran immigrants played in a cramped space behind the goal posts of the high school field, edged out by the soccer team.

Kids played on a makeshift field at the Mountain View trailer park. Benny Perez, dodging piles of snow and puddles of mud, is a soccer fanatic who last fall helped clear the new soccer field of dead trees.

“It was hard,” he said. “I cut myself a lot because the branches were heavy and sharp.”

But that experience made him stop doubting.

“I thought it might be true,” he said of the field. “They wouldn’t have us do that for no reason.”

With synthetic turf soon to be rolled out, the town sparkles with new hope.

“In the past, Leadville looked at itself as the poor mountain cousin of its wealthy neighbors,” Pugh said.

“But now, they believe everyone deserves a decent field where people can play together.”


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