by Libby James
City Park has been a playground, community gathering place, fishing, skating and swimming spot, sports arena, and green, tree-shaded respite for the people of Fort Collins for more than 100 years.
In 1907, at the dawn of the twentieth century, John Sheldon sold 62 acres of land to the city of Fort Collins. The same year trolley service began down Mountain Avenue which borders the park on the north. Six years later the park grew with the addition of Prospect Park, 44 acres, now the home of ball fields and bleachers.
A public campground, no longer in existence, opened in 1919 and by 1925 a pavilion, now known as Club Tico, playgrounds, a diving tower, bathhouse, and warming house was added. Rumor has it that the hill where today kids sled and people watch the Fourth of July fireworks was created from dirt excavated to create Sheldon Lake. City Park Nine Golf Course opened in 1940. A train ride for children began operation in 1950.
In 1992, City Park was designated as the official Fort Collins arboretum. Areas with arboretum designation agree to remain open to the public, keep plant records and maintain plants for aesthetic display or research purposes. City Park qualified because of its diverse and unique selection of trees contributing to the beauty of the park. More than 1000 trees, 220 different species, and varieties grow here. Of this number, 31 are native to the area. Others have been intentionally selected, planted and nurtured, beginning in the 1950s. Many of them are labeled. A self-guided tour of the City Park Arboretum was revised in 2015 and is available at the Parks Department, 413 S. Bryan Ave.
City Park Pool, separate from Sheldon Lake, was built in 1952 and instead of being destroyed because of its age, was completely renovated in 2003. Because it was not officially named until 1912, a celebration of City Park’s 100th anniversary did not take place until 2012 when a plaque was installed honoring the occasion. Four years later, the city began planning to initiate improvements to the park beloved by so many for so long.
An investment was made in long-range planning and presented to the public in 2018. There was intense interest in the master plan and objections, some having to do with changing the character of the park, arose from citizens, especially from those living in the City Park area. The result was the halting of phase one which had been due to begin in 2019. It was back to the drawing boards, and that has now become a continuing process.
In March 2019 the city organized a two-day City Park Engagement Workshop. Thirty-two participants were selected from a field of 144 applicants to work together to help to determine the future of City Park. “It was a productive process,” City Park area resident and architect Michael Spearnak said.
Even so, he was disappointed that workshop participants focused on ways to complete phase one which included incorporating a new children’s train, already purchased and awaiting delivery, into the park. In Spearnak’s view, the plan to insert the train into the existing playground area makes no sense. The train needs a space roughly the size of a football field, way too big to fit comfortably into the playground area, according to Spearnak. Doing so would divide the playground, make access to the restroom difficult and cause unnecessary crowding. “We’ve been waiting for improvements to the restrooms, sidewalks, and playground equipment for a long time and all we’re talking about right now is a train,” Spearnak said.
There’s a history behind all this. As part of an initiative called Building on Basics (BOB) in 2005, the city of Fort Collins set aside $1,703,000 for improvements to four of the town’s major parks. Plans were to upgrade bathrooms, sidewalks, playgrounds and landscaping in major parks, including City Park. Work was done in three parks and a portion of the funds was reserved for upgrades in City Park which have yet to take place.
In 2015, without the benefit of specific and detailed information, the citizens of Fort Collins voted to replace the old train with a new version to be installed in City Park. The train was ordered, built and now awaits delivery. Spearnak and some others would like to consider installing the train in Lee Martinez Park where there is plenty of room and installation would not threaten nearby trees, a problem making City Park installation very expensive.
A clause in the 2015 legislation allows for adjustments of the law if it becomes illegal or not feasible. Spearnak would like to invoke the clause, save some money, and direct phase one funds to health and safety issues such as upgrading restrooms, installing sidewalks, and upgrading playground equipment.
Future meetings are likely to address these issues. Meanwhile, spring has arrived and City Park is coming alive.