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Want to sample some new grass?

Janet Urquhart

Aspenites will get to sample a new kind of grass before the City Council decides whether artificial turf is appropriate in one of the town’s parks.

After a lengthy discussion Tuesday, council members agreed to install a temporary, sample swath of the plastic grass, possibly along the edge of Wagner Park, with the hope of enticing more community input into a proposal to replace natural grass with turf somewhere in town.

Several council members and other city officials checked out playing fields built with artificial turf in Vail and Edwards last month and came away convinced that the surface is appropriate somewhere in Aspen. Picking that locale, however, has proven difficult.

“I can’t pin down the one spot where this is best,” said Councilwoman Rachel Richards, calling the surface “a huge character change” for a downtown park.

Both Mayor Helen Klanderud and Councilman Tim Semrau called for use of the surface at Rio Grande Park, if it can be made to work with the city’s plans to use the area for storm water retention during periods of major runoff.

Councilman Terry Paulson favored an athletic field at the high school or Iselin Park, near the schools campus. Councilman Torre was absent from the discussion.

“Are you suggesting we spend $500,000 to put a field at the high school?” Semrau asked Paulson.

“I would say Rio Grande is really something of a no-brainer if we can work out the drainage problems,” Semrau added. “Everyone is skittish about putting it at Wagner Park.”

The Aspen School District, however, would be more than happy to work with the city on installation of artificial turf on a school campus playing field, according to Carol Sams, athletic director at the high school.

The district isn’t in a position to participate financially, but might find contributors who are willing to help, she said.

The city is wrestling with the need to accommodate increasing pressure on its parks, both for athletic activities and to accommodate special events. Council members noted the pros and cons of installing the turf at one site versus another.

Rio Grande Park was out of use for much of last summer after Jazz Aspen Snowmass held its June Festival there.

Richards said she’d be reluctant to install artificial turf somewhere else and have Rio Grande roped off every summer after the festival.

But, if the turf is installed at Rio Grande rather than Wagner, the community will likely give up the opportunity to promote new wintertime events at Wagner, Semrau pointed out.

Wagner is akin to Aspen’s town square, Klanderud argued. Fake grass there presents a psychological hurdle that’s difficult to overcome.

“I would like to move forward with this,” she said. “If I had to vote now, I would vote for Rio Grande, not Wagner.”

Previous estimates to install the artificial turf at Wagner put the cost at about $700,000. Sinking the field to create seating around it would bring the total cost to roughly $1 million.

Council members directed staffers to come up with estimates for installing the surface at Rio Grande, where storm water might have to be stored in chambers beneath the artificial turf.

Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com


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