Pitkin County’s redesigned Veterans Park to be re-dedicated Sunday | AspenTimes.com

Pitkin County’s redesigned Veterans Park to be re-dedicated Sunday

As plans for Pitkin County's new building on Main Street began to take shape more than two years ago, commissioners and staff soon realized that Veterans Park next door would be seriously impacted by the 18 months of construction.

So they decided to incorporate a renovation of the park into the $25 million project to improve the memorial and make it more welcoming and accessible.

Now — just in time for Veterans Day on Sunday — the new and, by nearly all accounts, greatly improved park will be re-dedicated to all U.S. veterans in a ceremony set to begin at 11 a.m.

"I think it's outstanding," retired U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. Dick Merritt said of the park. "We are very pleased."

Merritt, U.S. Navy veteran and former Aspen police Officer Dan Glidden and other area veterans took the lead in designing the new space and insisted that the memorial itself not be disturbed during the construction process.

"That's sacred ground," Glidden said recently. "It has dog-tags and ribbons in there. (The county) honored that from the get-go."

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Construction crews built a large, wooden box over the memorial for the year-and-a-half construction of the new county building. Meanwhile, landscape architect Nick Soho went to work designing the new park.

"(Soho) said, 'I don't want to make it another park. I want to make it a memorial,'" Glidden said. "And I think he's done that."

Instead of the simple brick walkway leading from the sidewalk along Main Street to the memorial in the center, which was surrounded by grass and dotted by a lonely picnic table, the new space is considerably more developed.

Gone are the old cottonwood trees along the west side of the building, which were removed because they posed safety hazards.

And while it now looks like the memorial in the center has been raised, the park itself has actually been lowered by 18 inches to make the memorial appear more important, Soho has said. The memorial is now surrounded by a circle of concrete benches with designed places for wheelchairs.

In addition, a covered walkway on the park's east side leading to the new building entrance will allow shelter in case of weather. Finally, the historic rose bushes that lined the entrance were dug up before construction, stored in a greenhouse and re-planted along with an evergreen and aspen trees.

"I love it," Glidden said.

Ryan Gentry, a Persian Gulf War veteran and Pitkin County Assessor's Office employee, said the "old park was kind of just a memorial tucked away next to the Pitkin County Courthouse."

The new space, by contrast, "was thoughtfully designed to be more welcoming to the public and to serve as a communal ceremony space for Memorial Day and Veteran's Day activities," he said in an email Friday.

"I like the fact the new Veterans Memorial Park is so inviting to Aspen citizens and employees of Pitkin County who work in the new Sheriff's Office and Administration Building," said Gentry, who also is on the park's executive board.

Pitkin County Commissioner Patti Clapper — who, in particular, wanted the old rose bushes saved — said what's most important about the park is that veterans decided what it would look like.

"Everything done was up to them," she said. "It's their park. So that's why it's so exciting."

Clapper said she was more than satisfied with the final outcome.

"I think Veterans Park is beautiful," she said Friday. "I think it's a true memorial to those who have served our country."

The total cost of the re-design was $581,000, said Rich Englehart, Pitkin County's chief financial officer.

On Sunday — which also is the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I — the re-dedication will begin about 10:15 at Paepcke Park, when veterans will walk an American flag and a Prisoners of War flag to the new park, Glidden said. The walk is an echo of a similar event in 1987, when veterans walked the same flags from Glenwood Springs to Aspen for the initial Veterans Park dedication, he said.

At 11 a.m., the re-dedication ceremony will begin with Merritt reading the Pledge of Allegiance and continue with several remembrances.

While the park is a welcoming space for anyone, Gentry asked that people also remember and respect the sacrifice it memorializes.

"Veteran's Memorial Park is a place for peace and often times for mourning of loved ones killed in combat," he said.

jauslander@aspentimes.com

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