A cemetery and a playground. Baseball fields and wetlands. A sliver of grass in the city’s core and a sprawling field on the fringes of town.Aspen’s parks are as diverse as the locals and visitors who frequent them.In fact, the city of Aspen Parks Department – with a summertime staff of 52 – manages more than 35 parks and athletic fields, as well as nearly 20 open space parcels.They range in size from minuscule Clapper Park – .05 acres next to the Aspen Fire Station downtown – to the expansive Cozy Point, more than 200 acres at the intersection of Highway 82 and Brush Creek Road.And they vary in use: The Yellow Brick School has basketball courts, slides and swings; the Aspen Art Park features sculptures and a theater tent; the Marolt Open Space is home to an Aspen Historical Society museum; and the Aspen Golf Course becomes a nordic ski trail in winter.”Some of our parks are fairly small – places where you can enjoy lunch or a quiet moment,” said Tom Rubel, operations superintendent for the parks department. “Others are places filled with activity; they are hubs for the community.”These hubs – Wagner, Paepcke, Rio Grande – are well-known. But there are dozens of other parks tucked away in Aspen’s corners and crevices. It is these neighborhood parks that makes Aspen so special, said Jeff Woods, manager of parks and recreation for the city.”Aspen has an amazing parks system … I’d say it’s one of the truly great parks systems in the United States,” he said, explaining how many of the town’s “real gems” date back to the ’70s, when much of today’s park land was acquired. According to Woods, the city acquires land for parks and open space in one of two ways: It can be donated or, more likely, it can be purchased. The city generally purchases land to be preserved as open space with money from a 1.5-cent sales tax dedicated to open space and trails; local park lands are often acquired through the development process, when land owners are required to give either land or cash to the city in exchange for land-use approvals. Often, land owners agree to sell the land to the city at below-market value.Even more important than acquiring the land, though, is what the city chooses to do with it. From the start, Aspen’s philosophy was “to create parks throughout the whole community,” explained Woods. “And they made that happen.”Take, for instance, Aspen’s West End. There’s Triangle Park, on Smuggler and 2nd streets, which is ideal for toddlers and young children. Pioneer Park, at Bleeker and 3rd streets, was once part of the Stromberg family’s back yard; a shady gazebo remains on the property. And just down the road is Hillyard Park. Located on Bleeker Street between 4th and 5th streets, this peaceful slice of land was donated to the city in 1969 by Barbara Hillyard. Her hope was that it would be used as a quiet spot, not a public campground, athletic field, parking area or even a playground. Today, it epitomizes Woods’ vision for Aspen’s parks system.”Simple elegance,” said Woods. “When you look at what it was, as compared to what it’s become, you can see how much thought was given to creating a certain feeling. It was not done by luck.”On the east side of town is a similar mix of planned neighborhood parks: Snyder Park, next to the affordable housing development of the same name, offers children a place to play; and Glory Hole Park, on Original Street at Ute Avenue, offers a bit of local lore. Legend has it that beneath the park’s pond is a flooded mine shaft with an ore cart, steam engine and other mining equipment; above water is an enjoyable mix of grass, trees, picnic benches and peace and quiet.Even in the downtown core, where every square inch seems to be already developed, are pockets of green – and concrete. The Rio Grande Skate Park, adjacent to Rio Grande Park, is operated by the city parks department. So are miniparks like Conner Park, behind Aspen City Hall; Wheeler Park, adjacent to the historic opera house; and Francis Whitaker Park, on Hopkins Avenue and Monarch Street.Formerly known as Bass Park, Whitaker is perfect for a picnic lunch or leisurely game – the park includes a horseshoe pit and marble-and-stone chess tables with chairs. Whitaker Park is also a prime example of how the parks system continues to change with the town. According to Woods, the downtown parcel is about to get a facelift, but the changes will be made to meet community needs.”How a park is created or changed is really through a community process,” he explained. “It’s not like we draw up a plan and stamp it in place. The most successful parks are those that are a collaborative effort, where the community and park designers work together.” And while Aspen is in the midst of another era of parks’ growth, according to Woods, it is growth with parameters. “If you look at the parks we’ve built recently, they are along the same lines as those built in the ’70s,” said Woods. “Our underlying philosophy is to respect the tradition of Aspen parks, which is simple elegance.”Jeanne McGovern’s email address is email@example.com
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