New Herron Park playground coming into swing as part of $300k improvements at popular Aspen spot
The riverfront Herron Park in Aspen is getting a new playground.
Aspen City Council members at virtual meeting Tuesday unanimously signed off on a $250,000 contract with Earthscape Play Inc., an Elmira, Ontario-based firm that designs customized wooden playgrounds.
The project’s total budget is $300,000, with Parks and Open Space reserving the remaining $50,000 “for general park improvements,” according to a memo to City Council from Mike Tunte, the city’s landscape architect and construction manager.
Herron Park is located on Neale Avenue at the upvalley bookend of the 42-mile Rio Grande Trail. It also flanks the Roaring Fork River, and is a popular attraction for parties, socials, lawn sports, lazing and river wading.
The current playground, seemingly inspired by the Lincoln Logs motif, is dominated by wooden features and also includes a rope bridge, a slide and a swing set for infants.
The playground structures are aging and has safety concerns, and the city is tapping into its 2021 Parks Fund Capital Project Budget to pay Earthscape Play. The installation project is planned for July through September. The city will handle the construction work in-house. Outside of the playground area, the remaining portion of Herron Park will be open to the public during that time frame, according to city officials.
Mayor Torre noted City Council was being asked to approve a contract without any design plans to review.
“This is one of those items that comes up to council and we haven’t heard from the neighborhood, from the users, and we want to make sure we get it right,” he said.
Mike Tunte, the city’s landscape architect and construction manager, calmed the mayor’s concerns. The city is working in tandem with Earthscape Play and has been collecting feedback already, he said.
“I want them to understand what our values are in Aspen,” Tunte said. “I want them to think about what the local inspiration is.”
Resident can offer their input on the city’s Aspen Community Voice website — http://www.aspencommunityvoice.com.
“It is anticipated that the Earthscape Play Inc. will provide renderings, graphics and a written narrative to describe the proposed playground,” Tunte’s memo also said. “Staff will present the playground concept to the public through the Aspen Community Voice platform.”
The new park will be geared toward the 2- to 5-year-old age group and also the 5-to-12 set, city officials said.
Earthscape Play specializes in wooden features for parks and playgrounds, and a city selection committee chose it over 14 other applicants responding to a request-for-qualifications process that started in December.
Two-thirds of the council’s older guard noted that even playground design in Aspen can be contentious community issue.
Councilwoman Ann Mullins cautioned against “bright plastic neon colors” in favor of “more earthy color material that blends in with the landscape, especially down here at Heron Park.”
And Councilwoman Rachel Richards recalled the static the city got a few decades ago over the “generic” playground equipment installed at the Yellow Brick, as well as another playground structure. Richards served on council in the ‘90s and was mayor from 1999 to 2001.
“Being an older person from back in the ‘90s, you can’t believe the outrage when the large climb-over-the-rainbow thing was replaced with an elephant tooth,” she said. “It just did not make people very happy.”
Borrowing from the slogan popularized by Kix cereal in 1978, Richards said: “I want to tell you in one way or another, no matter what you do, I want it ‘kid tested and parent approved’, as they say,” she said.
The remaining third of the said old guard, Councilman Ward Hauenstein, also made a call to upgrade Herron Park’s current lavatory situation — portable toilet stalls — to a permanent one.
“I think the biggest need for Heron Park is a real bathroom,” he said, “a little outhouse capital improvement.”
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