by Dave Felice
While the Denver Parks and Recreation administration forges ahead with plans for exclusive commercial park uses, more and more people are questioning park management, particularly maintenance.
Writing in the July edition of the South City Park Neighborhood Newsletter, Association Vice President Roger Lawson says “you’re probably disappointed, discouraged, frustrated, or even outraged at the conditions you encounter” walking through City Park.
Noted historian Phil Goodstein, quoted in The Denver Post on June 22, calls the state of disrepair at Cheesman Park Pavilion “a prime example of the city’s lack of pride in itself.” According to Goodstein, “it’s the (former parks chief) Kim Bailey legacy of more liquor, less Port-A-Potties.” Goodstein says Bailey “showed a thorough disdain for the parks.”
Bailey initiated the development of a policy to prohibit free and open public access to parks for commercial events such as music festivals. She formed the Admissions Based Special Events Policy (ABSEP) task force. The ABSEP subcommittees on issues such as policy, fees, and sites, continue to meet as Scott Robson serves as Acting Manager of Parks.
Denver resident Bob Smith writes in a Letter to the Editor of the Denver Post: “There’s lots of media attention being paid to the algae clogging City Park’s lake, and some to the other lakes likewise affected, but no one seems to pay any attention to the lack of leadership in Denver’s Parks and Recreation Department, and how this might contribute to the problem.”
According to Smith, there are many “hard-working, dedicated people” in acting or interim positions, being asked to do two jobs, and the department is suffering.” Describing Bailey as “a disaster,” Smith says “Maybe if Mayor John Hickenlooper wasn’t so busy begging for the DNC, he could pay better attention to the problems of the city he was elected to govern.”
On June 27, Rocky Mountain News reporter Daniel Chacon wrote that the city administration “is blaming its antiquated irrigation systems and a stretch of hot, dry weather for the ugly brown patches on the grass throughout several city parks.”
District 10 Councilwoman Jeanne Robb, a parks advocate and member of the Public Amenities Committee counters by saying Parks and Recreation needs to “work harder at keeping the grass in the parks green, especially since the city is hosting the Democratic National Convention in two months,” according to Chacon.
Councilwoman Carla Madison of District Eight and resident of City Park West is also concerned. According to Chacon’s report, Madison says “I don't think I've ever seen City Park's irrigation look worse.” Madison is also a member of the Amenities Committee.
The massive algae bloom in City Park’s Ferril Lake is troubling many residents and park officials.
"It's disgusting. The lake looks like it has cancer," said Rinn Swoboda, a 28-year-old native who has Denver’s “303” Area Code tattooed on her calf, according to a July 7 story by Denver Post reporter Joey Bunch. He quotes Megan Moore as saying “It looks like a commode that hasn't been flushed,” as she looked across two rows of wire fence set up to keep people away from the lake.
Trumbule has written extensively on his research of the issues of water pollution, dead birds, and unsightly or sickly grasses, He comments: “Ferril Lake in City Park IS a commode. If area residents knew what was being piped there from the Lowry Landfill they would demand that it be stopped, NOW.”
Some members of Mayor John Hickenlooper’s staff have commented briefly on the park problems. But Hickenlooper himself has been conspicuously silent.
Acting Parks Manager Scott Robson has also not spoken about the issues, except to delay full implementation of Bailey’s proposal to expand the sale of alcoholic beverages in so-called “festival parks.”
Most of the public comment has come from Jill McGranahan. She is the director of marketing and communications for Parks. McGranahan formerly worked for the Convention and Visitors Bureau and was hired by Bailey.
“(The heavy growth of algae) is definitely something we're trying to get a handle on and something we're trying extraordinary measures to get rid of,” commented McGranahan is a story for The Denver Post.
According to the paper, park personnel have tried chemicals and rakes, and eventually resorted to sewer vacuums, from the Wastewater Management Division of Denver Public Works. The story also says park officials suspect a $28 million city project, aimed at improving drainage and beautifying one of the city's prettiest parks, of feeding this massive algae bloom.
Regarding the dead-looking grass in many locations, the Rocky Mountain News quotes McGranahan as saying “the effect of the dilapidated irrigation systems on the grass is only made worse by the hot, dry weather.
According to the paper, McGranahan says: “We understand (the parks are) not as attractive as we would all like to see them. But, we do not intend to go outside the Denver watering guidelines.”
Both McGranahan and Parks Landscape Supervisor Ruth Murayama say the grass is really not dead, but dormant because of the heat. According to Murayama, “bluegrass can go into dormancy for as long as 90 days without water and that is why it browns out.”
District Five Councilwoman Marcia Johnson, Vice Chair of the Public Amenities Committee, complains that Cranmer Park in Hilltop is in bad condition. “It's uniformly tan,” Councilwoman Marcia Johnson said in the News story
Murayama, however, says a project to improve the irrigation at Cranmer is on schedule and expected to be complete in September.
South City Park Vice President Roger Lawson issues a call to action, declaring: “Game On!”
Using the sports metaphor, Lawson says the game involves “the contest between citizens and park staff.” First, he says, problems cause an unsightly blight. Then park officials either do not solve the problem or try to ignore it.
Then, when citizens complain, Lawson says park administrators form action teams to “offer any number of reasons staff is incapable of solving the problem.” One tactic is for officials to say they didn’t “think anyone could have anticipated” situations such as algae on Ferril Lake.
“Citizens, now desperate for victory, go on offense by ‘going deep.’ We call our Councilwoman (Carla Madison),” says Lawson. “Unfortunately, the ‘Hail Mary play’ rarely works, as the Councilwoman responds with tried and true responses such as ‘call 3-1-1,’ ‘be patient,’ or my personal favorite, ‘maybe things will be better next year.’ ”
Lawson says the game ends at City Park when citizens give up and drive south to Washington Park, since that park is generally better maintained.
Lawson praises residents, such as Hank Wotli, who continue to challenge the city. According to Lawson, City Park Alliance needs to get involved, along with other neighborhood organizations.
The Inter-Neighborhood Cooperation (INC) association has formed a Parks Committee, co-chaired by Don Tressler of Corey-Merrill and Larry Ambrose of Sloan’s neighborhood. INC represents about half of Denver’s approximately 200 Registered Neighborhood Organizations (RNOs). Karen Cuthbertson, of Athmar Park Neighborhood Association, is the current chair of INC.