Letter: Basalt can learn from Aspen’s mistakes

I don’t live in Basalt but I strongly urge the residents of Basalt to vote “yes” on the Ballot questions 2F and 2G for the Basalt river park.

From my perspective, river frontage is the most rare and valuable asset a Colorado town can enjoy; just look at the community-defining and economic benefits realized in towns like Salida and Buena Vista. Vacationers look for authenticity when choosing destinations; for the town of two rivers, securing this property is essential to defining Basalt in the future.

There are many local examples of opportunities captured and opportunities lost. The voters of Aspen could have saved the old Motherlode and land next to the Wheeler Opera House; opponents campaigned against because the contract price was $400,000 over appraisal. Voters turned down the acquisition; six months later the property sold for $5 million more than the contract price. A great historic resource was lost, and the opportunity to further enhance the arts economy with smaller performing, rehearsal, lecture and meeting spaces adjacent to the Wheeler.

There is no open space or park area that ever seemed cheap when purchased — or that isn’t worth far more now than when first acquired.

It isn’t unusual for a community to not immediately recognize its own unique assets and capitalize on them. For decades the city of Aspen’s used its river frontage behind Rio Grande Park for a snow dump, leaving mountains of oil-coated snow to melt out, leaving an unusable barren mucked up site in August. It was by citizen efforts that the Art Park and Theater in the Park forced the city to relocate the snow dump and to restore the riverfront — now the stunning and well visited John Denver Sanctuary.

It isn’t unusual for fatigue to set in when larger projects require multiple steps, many years, or take a winding path to reach the finish line. The goal of a recreation center in Aspen overcame withdraw by the first private funders for the ice rink, only to recruit new funders. And even though the Aspen Youth Center didn’t realize the opportunity to relocate to the Aspen Recreation Center until after considerable design work had been completed, the project paused, and with great benefits all around, included the youth center in the final building.

The successful passage of the Basalt’s ballot questions to secure and create a magnificent river park in the heart of its historic downtown is the most valuable community character and economic opportunity I have seen in a long time. It has taken a lot of hard work to reach this decision point. Don’t let Basalt become another Edwards, where the defining feature is a mediocre lodge and shopping complex that blocks off the actual views and access to the river.

Keep the faith, keep the vision and vote “yes” on 2F and 2G. Your children will thank you.

Rachel Richards