BEST CHAMPION WITH LOCAL ROOTS 2006 | Ulmus Americana Cheesman Park | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword
Denver Forestry keeps a list of champion trees, the largest examples of their species found in the state. Of the 73 champs rooted in Denver, 25 can be found at the Denver Botanic Gardens, another 17 in the city's parks system. The tallest of all is the American Elm located by Cheesman's east entrance at Ninth Avenue, adjacent to the road. Just a few inches under a hundred feet, this baby is too hefty to hug, so just stand back and admire those big shoulders.
Round a lush bend on the Bear Creek Greenbelt trail and you'll find yourself smack-dab in the middle of a thriving prairie dog town. Little heads pop up and out of burrowed holes that dot the wide, open meadow; elsewhere, the cheeky varmints stand still as statues, hoping not to be noticed. This is one of the delightful surprises that make the 340-acre Greenbelt the best urban nature fix in town. Although the 'belt occasionally dives under a busy surface street, most of its approximately two miles of paved and unpaved trail winds around little ponds and through swaths of grassland; horse trails hug the mossy banks of Bear Creek, which flows beautifully in the spring. Start at the Stone House, wander east, and let yourself pretend that the trail goes on forever.
The Urban Farm, located on a reclaimed corner of the former Stapleton Airport, is one of the city's hidden treasures. It's a real farm with all kinds of animals -- cows, sheep, goats, chickens, a gorgeous hog the size of Kansas and lots of horses -- where urban kids can get a feel for rural life and learn to ride, too. The Farm also offers fabulous birthday parties, complete with a tractor-drawn wagon ride to visit the animals, a ride around the ring on a handsome pony, and a free hour for cake and games in the farm's arbored garden and big red playhouse. What little kid wouldn't love to feed hay to a llama, rub a palomino's nose or stroke the silky-soft coat of a rex rabbit? The parties are pure child's play and a boon to the farm, which uses the fees to help feed and care for its residents.
The Denver Kickball Coalition started as a drunk-Sunday league on the fields of Morey Middle School, but over the past four years it's grown into a sporting powerhouse. Today the league has a draft, numerous teams with crazy names and even crazier uniforms, bachelor auctions to raise money for charity, and cutthroat competition. Although the original Commish, Joe Phillips, headed for L.A. last year, he left the group he founded in the capable hands of Marc Hughes. There's still lots of boozing before, during and after games, which means spectators and players alike will enjoy a sporting good time.
Golden Goal works as an indoor soccer facility for the simple reason that it lets you play. While some indoor joints assault you with snack bars and gear shops, promotions and spam e-mails, Golden Goal merely ushers you past walls lined with outdated soccer posters, leads you onto one of the facility's two playing fields and lets the games begin. The turf is the state-of-the-art stuff you can wear cleats on, not the flesh-hungry carpet that ripped your childish skin. The referees are typically players, or ex-players, who call the bad fouls, but they generally let the game go on. And if someone's friend who wasn't on the team the week before shows up for a coed-league game, nobody says a thing. In operation for a little over a year, the facility is open to everyone from four-year-olds to forty-year-olds, seven days a week, from eight in the morning to around midnight. With plans to add basketball and volleyball leagues in the near future, Golden Goal is sure to get busier. But for now it remains a place where future Ronaldinhos and washed-up Tony Meolas alike can leave it all out on the field.
Like just about everything else at oh-so-hip Belmar, the rink couldn't be just a rink. This slick facility, complete with a rental kiosk housed in a refurbished, 31-foot vintage Airstream trailer, proved to be enormously popular with visitors to the shopping center this winter, and also served as the site for such loony, Belmar-style retro events as the Dated Holiday Sweater Skate Night. As if that weren't enough, all skating and rental fees went to Jeffco schools. We can't wait to start skating on thin ice again next season.
Designing, building and maintaining a terrain park is as much an art as it is a science, and Copper Mountain displays the right blend of physics and beauty with its snow sculpting. Dubbed "Catalyst," the park runs beneath the American Flyer lift and is separated into three zones that run parallel to each other down the mountain. The left side, with mini-kickers and small rails, is reserved for beginners. The center area is a step up in skill level, allowing boarders to progress on kinked rails until they work up the cojones to hit the giant tabletops, hips, tall rainbow rails and eighteen-foot quarter-pipe/wall ride on the right side. But all roads lead to Copper's 430-foot-long Main Vein Superpipe, with seventeen-foot-high walls set on a sixteen-degree pitch. This is your ticket to ride.
Arapahoe Basin already appeals to the independent skier, the person who'd rather power down the slopes than vamp through Vail. And while there are plenty of challenging runs -- including the classic Pallavicini -- on A-Basin's official map, the area also boasts great out-of-bounds skiing. A short walk from the top of the Lenaway Lift and through the U.S. Forest access gate, there's a mile-long stretch known as the Beavers, which starts at about 12,500 feet and drops you down below the base at 9,000. The wide-open slope faces north, which means it gets less sun -- so the snow sticks around a lot longer. Getting back up to the base is easy, too: The run ends right at the road that leads to A-Basin. So after laying down some turns in the fresh pow-pow, all you need to do is stick out your thumb to get a lift to the lift so you can shoot the Beavers all over again. And do it soon: A-Basin has set its sights on expanding into the area.
In 1952, early fans of skiing banded together as the Schussbaumer Ski Club, even opening a crash pad in Georgetown. That had to move when I-70 came through, so in 1965 the members built a chalet in Breckenridge that was close to the only game in town -- back when that town was a sleepy old mining burg just beginning to turn into a resort. Now, of course, Breckenridge is an international destination brimming with pricey condos and hotels, and the 72 hostel-style beds (divided between a men's floor and a women's) at the club's Breckenridge Chalet, located right at the base of Peak 8, may be the best ski deal in the state. Membership in the club -- it's limited to 150 active members, plus alumni -- is $495 a year and buys you both access to the slopes anytime and one giant slumber party.
Winter Park is rich in history from the early mining days of Colorado, but at thirty, Mary Jane is still young at heart. Over the past three decades, the area's runs -- Rail Bender, Trestle, Needle's Eye -- have become infamous for their great fall lines and the Volkswagen-sized bumps that keep lots of knee surgeons in business. And if you're fortunate enough to stumble on one of the huts hidden in the trees off Mary Jane, your skiing adventure will reach a new high. Bump and run!

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