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Mahon: Extend funding for open space, parks, and trails

Ted Mahon
Guest Conmentary
Ted Mahon

As I finished my annual autumn color ride on the Government Trail, I plotted my way back to town. I coasted across the Tiehack bridge and pedaled the single track through the Moore Open Space, where I had unobstructed views of the changing leaves on Red Mountain, Smuggler, and Shadow Mountain.

I zipped across the pedestrian bridges over Maroon and Castle creeks, allowing me to navigate the traffic-filled roundabout zone without crossing a road or interacting with vehicles. I cut through the Marolt Open Space — acquired by the city in the early ’80s — passing between the paragliding landing area and the Community Garden, where my wife has had a plot for over 15 years.

Rejoining the paved bike path, I rode by the Holden Marolt Mining and Ranching Museum. I continued across the Marolt Bridge and down the Hopkins Avenue Pedestrian/Bikeway toward town. As I approached Aspen’s downtown core, I couldn’t help but think about how fortunate we are to have our local Parks and Open Space program.



And, I thought about what Aspen might look like had this program not existed.

On Nov. 8, City of Aspen residents will decide whether or not to extend the 0.5%, or half-penny , sales tax that funds the city’s Parks and Open Space program. It was originally passed back in 2000, with a sunset in 2025.




The half-penny tax funds nearly a third of the Parks and Open Space budget. It supplements a 1% tax that voters passed back in 1970 that still exists today. Ballot Issue 2B asks the public to renew the half-penny tax in perpetuity.

We should support this ballot issue. The funds generated from a yes vote on 2B would provide continued support for improvements and maintenance of Aspen’s open space, parks, and trails for years to come.

Consider what this funding has supported since 2000.

The Aspen Recreation Center, the Iselin/Rotary Ballfield complex, improvements at Cozy Point Ranch, the Tiehack bridge, the Golf /Nordic Pro shop and restaurant, Rio Grande Park, and John Denver Sanctuary were all developed and supported with this funding.

The half-penny tax also supported Sky Mountain Park, the Moore playing fields, the skateboard park, the Highlands Trail and East of Aspen Trail, the Cemetery Lane Trail, and the bridge to Stein Park, as well as continued improvements to our local section of the Rio Grande Trail.

And, I’d be remiss not to mention how the funds raised from the half-penny tax helped the city Parks and Open Space program procure and protect a large amount of open space in and around Aspen.

Acquisitions include small parcels around town that have become parks, trail connections, or wildlife corridors, as well as more significant holdings, like Smuggler Mountain and Sky Mountain Park, which are now preserved and free from development.

The Parks and Open Space program benefits the local community and visitors, alike. A failure to extend the half-penny tax would result in the loss of a substantial portion of the department’s budget, which would have effects felt far and wide.

Capital improvements would have to be scaled back, delayed, or, in some cases, eliminated due to the reduced budget. That would also be the case regarding maintenance on the trails, parks, playing fields, and playgrounds. Staffing across all aspects of the program would be affected, as might operating hours at facilities such as the recreation center and the golf course.

Some opponents of the ballot measure feel that with the significant open-space acquisitions completed and an absence of future acquisitions on the horizon, the funding provided from the half-penny tax is no longer needed.

But, as successful as Parks and Open Space has been in that mission, acquisitions are just one program goal. And, past success doesn’t mean we can congratulate ourselves and declare the work done. Potential acquisition opportunities could present themselves in the future, even if they aren’t known today.

But, more importantly, the challenge for the program in the years ahead is to adequately fund the ongoing maintenance needs of the numerous facilities that have been built over the past 20 years. Costs for projects and maintenance continue to rise, as do wages needed to pay and retain quality staff. In addition, usage across the Parks and Open Space continues to increase with the local population, and it shows no sign of waning. As a result, the need to fund continued improvements and maintenance grows.

The Parks and Open Space program is something we can all agree has been a resounding success and continues to contribute to a high quality of life for residents. Let’s honor the effort of the group of citizens and elected leaders who had the foresight to plan this program and continue to fund it in the years ahead. Vote yes on 2B!

Ted Mahon moved out to Aspen to ski for a season 25 years ago and has been stuck in the Rockies ever since. Contact him at ted@tedmahon.com or on Instagram @tedmahon.