Roaring Fork Nature Parks

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A “Wild at Heart” map of nearby places to discover (or rediscover) with your child.

A note form MP regarding Covid-19: Genevieve Villamizer’s wild spaces tour offers a remedy of sorts. Multi-acred, wide-open, mostly free of playground equipment, these nearby places give us a way to get outside and breathe fresh air, to feel cleansed by sunlight and Springtime breezes, and to find renewal

By Genevieve Villamizar, Master’s Candidate – Environmental Management & Sustainable & Resilient Communities

Nurturing my child’s entrance into the world changed my own life radically. Drawn to discovery, she was most content among greenery and open skies. In her first spring, she burst into life as the season did. 

I remember her first sighting of an iris. Pale blue, it had finally unfurled its invitation of yawning, arching, pearlescent petals. Its seduction triumphed over my nine-month-old. Clad in a onesie, she beelined bare-kneed across our exposed aggregate patio, straight to the bloom. Gripping its thick, succulent stalk, she snapped that sucker right off. She brought it to her face in delight, its perfume a light and sweet pleasure. She gently rubbed it on her face, giggling, peering into its universe. Wordlessly, she stuck her fist out, offering me her treasure. 

Then, a dreamy summer: silky, swaying trees; burbling, splashing waterfall, darting, kissing koi. She gasped over ravens, hummingbirds. Bonded to our pets. She was growing into a free-range wild child, at one with the natural world, a part of it. For we all are Nature. We are of the Earth. Being with Nature in a meaningful way stirs our primal true nature — proven to make us healthier, happier and smarter. 

The Valley’s abundance of wild-hearted parks are Homo sapien soul food. In the list on the following pages, I have shared a few places my daughter and I have discovered together, and a few spots I rediscovered through her eyes. So let’s slow life down and lose ourselves in some of the wilder, richer opportunities right around the corner.  

Where to explore

1. John Denver Sanctuary 

Four acres of opulent wetland gardens and mesmerizing boulder stepping-stone water crossings along the Roaring Fork. Expect to see butterflies, songbirds, and an enchanting array of insects and plants. The best part? Award-winning bathrooms (no kidding!) Park at the Rio Grande Parking Garage and stroll over.  

(Photo: Aspen Chamber Resort Association.)

2. ACES Hallam Lake Nature Preserve

A half-mile loop invites engagement and discovery for all ages as it wanders in and out of the wetlands and forest. Bear and deer and beaver, oh my! At the end of Puppy Smith Street behind the Aspen Post Office.

3. Wilton Jaffee Sr. Park 

Forty-four acres of magical riparian forest along a mile of the Roaring Fork River near Woody Creek. Deep aqua pools invite trout spotting first (wear your polarized shades!) and then cannonballs for families & Fido. Turn north from Hwy 82 onto Smithway Hill Road. Cross bridge and take an immediate right before McLain Flats Road.  

4. Basalt River Park

Vast inviting lawn, ancient cottonwoods, trails for exploration; relax and socialize right in the heart of downtown. For a treat, walk around the corner for an ice cream cone from Heirlooms. Park on Two Rivers Road.

5. Crown Mountain Park 

In addition to ball fields, playground and a BMX track, a wild wonderland can be found along the Roaring Fork River. Free-range kiddos and the family dog can wander ancient thickets and hobbit trails, build stone cairns and driftwood forts. Bodypaint with mud. Spot river bugs. From Hwy 82, take Valley Road at El Jebel. Pass the Eagle County Community Center. Park is on your left. 

6. Rock Bottom Ranch 

Small-scale agriculture meets wetlands, live springs, streams, and the Roaring Fork. Look for herons, wild turkeys, owls, and foxes. Stock up on soul food, too: sustainable eggs, pork, lamb, chicken, vegetables, and cut flowers. From Hwy 82, Willits Lane to Hooks Lane to the end of Hooks Spur. 

7. Carbondale Nature Park 

Thirty-three acres of wet-lands, thickets, streams, mud (yay!) log crossings and expansive meadows. Wander “secret” childsize paths through thickets of elms and willows. Famous for migratory birds and predators on wings. Bring binoculars, snacks, towels, and a picnic. Must love dogs, as it’s the unofficial dog park. From Main St., turn north on 4th St., and hang right when it jogs left; parking below. 

8. Nuche Park 

Pronounced ‘noosh’ and short for “Nuche-Mu-Gu-Avatum-Ada’he,” Ute for ‘the people’s place of the heart.’ Mosey across the pasture, over a ditch, and down to the river: an explorer’s delight! Find a comfy grassy picnic beach; bring camp chairs. Terrific raptor watching. Adjacent to Crystal River Hatchery, where .25¢ buys a pocketful of fish pellets and priceless fun feeding Rainbow and Brown Trout. Opposite Prince Creek Rd. on Hwy 133.

9. The Redstone Beach

Dreamiest destination of all three river valleys. Jaw-dropping views. Small sand beach; shade.  Colorful river rocks that inspire evolving compositions. Back-float the riffles and runs. Explore massive boulders and deep pools. A revered, peaceful, joyful experience. Back road to Redstone.

10. Veltus Park

Perfect for younger kids: consistently clean bathrooms, picnic tables, a back eddy to wade, playground equipment, leafy shade and lawn. Lots of parking yet bikeable. Sweet! Off of Midland Avenue, across the river from the Glenwood Springs Elementary School. 

11. Two Rivers Park 

Glenwood Springs’ premier park will reopen in May after a $2,300,000 upgrade. Renewed nature river trail, bank restoration, protected beach, and bathrooms, all of our favorite park features — including the best wading in the Valley. From the GWS roundabout, take West 6th to a left turn onto Devereux Rd, over the bridge and left into the park.

Genevieve Villamizar

Genevieve’s master’s research is in re-wilding children through the Nature connection and free play. As life has shown her, regenerative nature is the breathing, pulsing connective tissue in ‘community.’ She is known for taking over Carbondale businesses and converting them into fecund, wildish places for us to gather, unwind and connect. She believes in the unexpected surprises of ‘wildishness,’ where we discover, reground, and renew.  She generously shares her intel about our community’s nature parks where we can go explore, renew and “get wild” from Aspen to GWS.

Learn More:

Aspen Center for Environmental Studies

Aspen Parks & Recreation

Basalt Parks & Recreation

Crown Mountain Park

Glenwood Springs Parks & Recreation

Snowmass Parks & Recreation

About Genevieve Villamizar

Genevieve Villamizar Genevieve’s master’s research is in resilient communities, and her passion is the intersect of community, nature, and food – specifically locally grown food, which she funnels to Lift-Up through UprootColorado.org’s volunteer farm and fruit tree gleaning events. Here, she shines a light on locally-owned restaurants that feature regionally-sourced food. Our community’s eateries took a hit during the springtime Corona shutdown, but they have rebounded with innovative ways to bring people together around a table. Our wish is to help you with the perennial question – What’s for Dinner? – by giving you a little food for thought.