Sopris Sun

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Volunteers dig in to build new parks as part of Rio Grande ARTway

By Trina Ortega
Special to The Sopris Sun

After nearly two years of planning, community members celebrated boots-on-the-ground progress of the Rio Grande ARTway last weekend with two volunteer work sessions at the new DeRail Park near Highway 133. A third volunteer work day is scheduled for 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Oct. 14 at the Latino Folk Art Garden along the path near Eighth Street.

Carbondale Arts has been developing the Rio Grande ARTway, a 1-mile section of the Rio Grande Trail that bisects Carbondale. The concept is to establish a “creative place-making project that reflects the cultural diversity of the community, inspires greater use of non-motorized transportation, preserves our heritage, and strengthens our core creative community,” according to the ARTway master plan.

“We have all been planning for two years, so to be able to see this come to fruition and actually get plants in the ground and see the trees is so exciting. The whole transformation of DeRail Park has been so quick in the last month,” Carbondale Arts Executive Director Amy Kimberly said.

The two volunteer work days followed on the heels of the Oct. 4 dedication of the ARTway’s first art installation, a mosaic tile bench created by Ascendigo Autism Services, Scavenger Industries, and community volunteers. The bench is dedicated to the memory of Alex DeMeo, the brother of Zachary DeMeo, who is participating in Ascendigo’s year-round adult program.  

“Asendigo had a dedication for the first art piece on the ARTway, and it was so much more emotional than I had anticipated. Everyone there felt it, too, and that’s what creative place-making is about. I don’t think people totally get place-making, but then when you’re part of it, you get the power of it,” Kimberly said.

On the northwest end, the ARTway will be marked with an entryway sculpture incorporating the Carbondale Creative District logo (the distinctive cowgirl on a bicycle) designed by local blacksmith Olivia Pevec and the new DeRail Park.

The Carbondale Rotary and Mt. Sopris Rotary clubs have led the charge on developing DeRail Park with help from DHM Design. Located on the small bluff near the intersection of the Rio Grande and Crystal Valley trails, the park will include railroad artifacts and history and a covered picnic table crafted by local woodworker Marty Schlein. The shelter will be situated at the top of the bluff, with an unobstructed view down the Rio Grande to Mt. Sopris. The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority, which owns the corridor, has been helping with labor on the ARTway.

About two dozen volunteers spent Friday and Saturday leveling soil, planting trees, shrubs and groundcover plants, and spreading straw at DeRail Park, which also will feature “living” railroad history, such as crossing signs and switches, ties, rails and more refurbished from the rail corridor that once ran the Aspen Branch of the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad.  

Carbondale Rotary President Robin Tolan volunteered on Oct. 6 and was watering freshly planted sedum. Tolan said the park and the ARTway are examples of what can get accomplished when a “village” comes together. The two Rotary clubs joined forces and raised about $10,000 for DeRail Park, about one-sixth of the total cost, according to Tolan.

“It takes a village, and people are passionate about this place,” she said. “It’ll be an ongoing thing. This is the first planting, tomorrow the group will come back, and we will continue to take care of it in the spring. For Rotarians, it’s a way to show that we are doing things for the community and to get more people involved.”

The northern end of the ARTway also includes the new single-track for mountain bikers and soft surface path for runners. Public sculptures, town history and other artsy points of reference will be along the 1-mile stretch, which Kimberly describes as a “linear park.”

The Latino Folk Art Garden is at the center of the ARTway, near Eighth Street. The highlight of the garden will be a story sculpture detailing the history of Latinos in the valley. The park also will include hammocks, tables, gardens and other art installations.

Carbondale resident Judith Alvarez has been volunteering on the Steering Committee to design the garden. She has been rounding up residents for a volunteer work day on Oct. 14.

“Community members should come out to know where this beautiful garden will be, and if you can help, we welcome that, too,” Alvarez said, noting that she is seeking artists, painters, and skilled crafts-people to lend a hand.

She said the garden will be an important place not only for residents and visitors to reflect on how Latinos have contributed to the valley’s success, but for the Latino community to also get to know the community better and to offer inspiration for Latinos to continue to work hard to make the valley a better place for all.

“I would like the Latino community to come to take part in the creation of this park, which they can visit later and proudly tell their children, ‘I helped make this possible by working as a volunteer.’ I know that with the help of all, this garden will be beautiful, and we can show that we are an important part of this valley,” she said.