Washington Park
Flickr/Jeffrey Beall
Folks are passionate about their parks. City Park-lovers rave about the zoo, the museum and strolling in the fall. Pro-Cheesmanites cite the glories of their turf; others tout locations along Cherry Creek. Some whisper of undiscovered gems. Well, nobody's going to claim that Washington Park is undiscovered; after all, according to the Denver Department of Parks and Recreation, Wash Park has the most heavily used rec center in the city. Since that center restored its Sunday hours and last year's road rehab smoothed the way, this landmark keeps gathering accolades just as its beloved squirrels gather nuts.
We didn't need to read Sunset magazine to recognize that Denver has the country's best riverfront. But a visit to the South Platte River wasn't always a day at the beach. Over a century ago, it was "a miserable yellow melancholy stream," according to Mark Twain. "I wouldn't leave it out at night. Some dog might come along and lap it all up." And three decades ago, before the Platte River Greenway Foundation started cleaning up the riverfront, the stretch of the South Platte running through metro Denver was a noxious mess. Today, though, miles of walking/biking/running paths course along its pristine banks, leading you on an urban adventure under viaducts, past arenas and ballfields, and right into the heart of the Central Platte Valley. There, the Platte now anchors a stretch of parks ranging from the Denver Skatepark on the north end to Bee Hive Park on the south, near the new stadium. And thanks to some new public art, we even have a ship's mast reaching out of the valley toward downtown.
Rock Canyon may seem a bit far afield, but any beach bum worth his grain of sand is no stranger to committing a full day to a cool dip. And hey, it's closer than the coasts. On this beach, at the base of the 200-foot-tall, 10,500-foot-wide Lake Pueblo Dam, swimmers can enjoy their own private lake and swim beach. Huge cottonwoods rim the entire swimming area, offering protection from the scorching southern Colorado sun. Still, slather on the sunscreen before you wet yourself wild in the lake or on the water slide and bumper boats. Hot dogs and cold drinks are available for the picnic-challenged.
Desert Reef also happens to be Colorado's only beach club, an exotic little outpost at the end of Fremont County Road 110 that's a fresh air -- and bare-ass -- haven. The private club has over 200 members, but non-members can make a reservation to visit the ninety-acre resort. There they can enjoy the geothermal greenhouse, frolic in the clubhouse, bask in the 101-degree natural hot-springs pool -- and pop their eyes out over views that include not just beach-lovers in the buff, but the Wet Mountains and Sangre de Cristos, too.
No joke: After 54 years as a skier-only mountain, and as one of the last five resorts in the world to ban snowboarding, Aspen finally surrendered to the inevitable last spring. On April 1, Aspen Mountain was opened up to snowboarders, welcoming the next generation of sports enthusiasts. What's next -- affordable housing?
With a record-setting year of fatalities on Colorado's ski slopes as a backdrop, Aspen's operators took the logical -- and probably overdue -- step of requiring kids twelve and younger to wear helmets in ski school. Other resorts said they planned to follow, and given the deadly year, it seems only a matter of time before helmets are on every skier and boarder. Either that, or all trees will be chopped down slopeside, and runs tougher than green sprayed with foamy, cushioning goo.
Back in 1994, Ray Sforzo, Director of Snowboarding for Vail Resorts, and Arn Menconi, a self-proclaimed "Humble Snowboard Revolutionary," started SOS, or Snowboard Outreach Society. Their mission, at first, was to serve and inspire at-risk youth. Now, as Menconi says, "More and more we find that the people who are truly at risk are those who do not serve others." Because of this philosophy, the SOS has tried to pull in as many adult volunteers as possible, resulting in a youth-to-adult ratio of 2:1 in 2001. The number of volunteers and participants increases every year, from just forty snowboarders in the 1994-95 season to 695 youths during the 2000-01 season. The kids participate in a five-day program called LTR -- Learn to Ride. The program's founders are convinced snowboarding's "cool appeal" and quick learning curve help kids develop self-confidence, which they can carry off the mountain and into the classroom and their daily lives. Even better news is that this program has outgrown Colorado and can now be found in other states, too. It has also outgrown its season -- hosting two summer kayak programs in 2001. Way to chill, dudes.
Fido's still a puppy, but you've got shin splints to spare, and the idea of giving him a good run every day tires you out just thinking about it. Certain "leash free" zones in and around the metro area are the answer, where you can let your dog scamper about unencumbered while you bask in the warm sunshine on the sidelines. The best one by far is on the southeast corner of Cherry Creek State Park, just a few paws east of Parker Road and north of Orchard. Your dog-friendly pup can romp and play with other dogs in the large, enclosed field. Dogs can also swim and cool themselves off in the many pools in the "dog training area." On sunny days, there are sometimes more than sixty dogs using the large space, with children playing beneath a shade tree and doggie parents conversing. For more information, you can bark up the Cherry Creek State Park Web site, www.parks.state.co.us/cherry_creek.
Situated on a hillside at the edge of a tangle of park lands that also includes Rosedale and Harvard Gulch parks, this block-square parcel doesn't really qualify as wide-open space, though lots of people do bring their dogs here to chase Frisbees and each other in the late afternoons of summer. But all you have to do once you arrive is sit down. Or stand. Or roll over. The sky takes care of the rest, and the spectacular mountain view, framed by trees and houses, doesn't hurt, either. Ooh. Aah. Ruff!
Dude! There is nothing cheaper than free, and free is one concept that truly befits the sport of skateboarding, which, at its best, has no rules. That's exactly how things work at this city-built facility, whose smooth expanses of concrete bowls and ramps were opened to the public last summer. The fruits of a project spearheaded by city councilwoman Joyce Foster and a bunch of restless skateboard kids who had been ousted from the 16th Street Mall in the name of progress, the approximately 60,000-square-foot park is touted to be the largest free paradise of its kind in the nation. Equally expansive are its 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily operating hours. Helmets are not required, so grind at your own risk!

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