Calhoun: Wake-Up Call

Denver City Council committee to consider parks permit fee today -- after Times story

"No exercise groups of any size permitted in this area." Those signs started popping up around Denver parks this year, discouraging groups of early-morning runners and mid-morning mommies pushing strollers in syncopated workouts. The city's crack-down on organized exercise seems so ludicrous that it even rated a story in the New York Times on July 11, headlined "In Health Conscious-Denver, limits on group exercise." And this on the day that Governor John Hickenlooper was also announcing the Colorado Get Movin' Challenge, a thirty-day campaign to make this the healthiest state in the country, as residents committed to thirty minutes of exercise a day.

But not in groups in Denver, where Hickenlooper was the mayor until 2010.

The crackdown came last year, as more and more exercise classes started using the parks as their playgrounds. Some were organized by companies -- but other were just groups of friends getting together for some time outside.

According to the Times:

The city rules are clear: No commercial activity without a permit. Historically, those rules mostly applied to concerts, festivals, races and food vendors. But in the past few years, the growing popularity of group training programs like CrossFit has filled the parks with clumps of people doing yoga, running suicide sprints and crab-walking up and down hills until their lungs ache.

On weekdays, there are the moms. Last year, Caren Elenowitz took over a business called Stroller Strides, which runs daily workout seminars for mothers with young children. They jog around the park while pushing their strollers, do squats while cooing to their infants and strengthen their quads while singing "If You're Happy and You Know It." She charges mothers $55 for a month of classes.

Last year, after her community newspaper ran a story about Ms. Elenowitz's business, she said she got a call from Denver Parks and Recreation informing her that because she did not have a license, she could not run her workouts in Central Park in the Stapleton neighborhood.

Not surprisingly, people who use Denver's parks -- which is just about everyone in the city -- complained, and the Denver Department of Parks and Recreation held meeting after meeting, then came up with a plan that would create new a new system of fees and permits. Basically, groups will be able to run together, play games together. But as soon as money changes hands you'll need a permit.

At 10:30 a.m. today, Denver City Council's Land Use, Transportation & Infrastructure Committee will discuss that new plan, which is contained in a proposed ordinance that would establish fees for private outdoor fee-based activity in defined park areas.

Lauri Dannemiller, the manager of the Denver Department of Parks and Recreation, will be on hand to discuss the proposal. The meeting in City Hall is open to the public -- but please, don't get all hot and bothered in groups.

More from our archives: "Bike to Work photo gallery, with John Hickenlooper and Michael Hancock."

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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun