Paul Butcher grew up in Springfield, Mass., a city where 300 years worth of buildings and tangled roadways have pushed many city parks to the fringes, like incidental weeds in sidewalk cracks.
It doesnt take a sociologist or horticulturalist or even the director of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services, which has been Butchers title since 1994 to know its a different ballgame in fast-growing Colorado Springs.
When a developer comes in and starts to build a subdivision, its responsible to give us land free dedicated land to eventually build a park on, Butcher says. Our goal is to have a service area of a half-mile radius, so no family or kid would have to walk more than half a mile to get to a park.
And, he adds, the citys doing a pretty good job of achieving that goal. As of the start of 2007, Butcher estimated 165 neighborhood parks, and more than 200 total park sites, in the city.
With all those destinations, its tough to know where to start. At the risk of being deemed heartless might this be like asking a parent to name his favorite child? we asked Butcher to give us a half-dozen park picks.
Place for a picnic
Monument Valley Park (170 W. Cache la Poudre St.)
You could plop down virtually anywhere with a sandwich, but Butcher pinpoints this downtown park, marked by shade and tranquility.
"It's such a long linear park, you can really pick the setting you're looking for," he says. "If you want to be by water, you can go to the duck pond area. If you want to picnic by a little more native area, you can go to the north end. If you want to picnic by the [Colorado Springs] Fine Arts Center, then visit the Fine Arts Center it's got a little area you can picnic at."
Place to escape and read a book
Red Rock Canyon Open Space (3615 W. High St.)
"It's a great place now, but when we get done having the trail system through there..."
As recently as the turn of this century, developers spoke as wistfully as Butcher does about these 787 acres west of downtown. But local voters and taxpayers saved it from future build-out with a 2003 vote authorizing a city purchase of the land. Upon opening to the public in 2004, it quickly became a locals' favorite.
"You wouldn't even know you were in the city, because there's no vehicle traffic," Butcher says. "The rocks just screen out everything, all the noise."
Place for outdoor exercise
Palmer Park (3650 Maizeland Road)
Though other area parks offer somewhat extensive trail systems, Butcher says Palmer Park is his choice, hands-down. Whether running or mountain biking, if you're willing to go uphill, you'll be rewarded with a phenomenal 360-degree view of the city. Plus, its central location makes it easy to reach, no matter where you live.
And, Butcher reminds, "There's horseback riding, with a horse concessionaire out there."
(Try finding that in Springfield, Mass.)
Place for people with disabilities
Memorial Park (1605 E. Pikes Peak Ave.)
The swimming pools are zero-depth entry, so anyone on a wheelchair can edge into the water safely. The skating facility is handicapped-accessible, too, as are the park's picnic tables.
"Next year, we're about to build a universally accessible playground," Butcher says. "This is going to cost us probably $500,000, maybe $600,000. Every piece of play equipment on it will be accessible to children with disabilities."
Place to take kids
Cottonwood Creek Park (7040 Rangewood Drive)
Cottonwood's a hugely popular draw with its recreation center, swimming pool, disc golf course, soccer and softball fields. The play area, with its "fantasy-amusement kind of theme," is a particular area of pride.
"The reason is, we have a community-built playground," Butcher says. "The Phil Long [automotive] dealerships and the Denver Bronco Foundation contribute, and the city does, and 400 to 500 people build the playground area over three days."
And, he adds, "If you want to see one similar to that, America the Beautiful Park is community-built."
Place to take visitors
Garden of the Gods (3130 N. 30th St.)
Like Palmer Park, a park with horseback riding, and a no-brainer to Butcher. "It gets 1.7 million visitors a year," he notes.
But, he adds, there actually are a few places where you can escape the cars, horses and big crowds locking the red rocks in their cameras' viewfinders.
"[I'd suggest] going to the central garden zone, a big area just immediately west of the kissing camels [rock formation]," he says. "Go in the big gateway area there that's the best place to see the rocks, touch and feel them.
"But don't climb them."
Right. You need a permit for that.