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Envisioning an oasis

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By Stephen Knapp

On Jan. 22, some 14 years after acquiring its first acre and two years after buying its last, the Evergreen Park and Recreation District board of directors unanimously approved a master plan for Buchanan Park.

“This community has been very generous and very patient while we secured the land,” said Peter Eggers, a driving force behind the effort. “Now it’s time for us to do something with it.”

To be fair, it’s not like Eggers and his fellow members of the Buchanan Park Improvement Committee have been sitting on their thumbs, lo’ these many moons. Since last winter, dozens of volunteers have been canvassing the district, reaching out to every imaginable user group and trying to divine community preferences. Working from a comprehensive survey conducted by the Evergreen Land Community Coalition, they identified the most-desired amenities, and spent hundreds of hours and at least as many miles touring similar public features around the state.

“Our committees have donated at least 4,500 hours to developing this master plan,” Eggers told the crowd packed into Buchanan Recreation Center’s multi-purpose room. “As of tonight, they can consider their job done.”

The avalanche of information thus collected fell directly on North Evergreen resident Russ Butler, a professional land planner with EDAW Inc., and it was Butler’s team that produced a coherent picture of what Evergreen’s northern gateway could someday be.

“We knew that the community center would be the park’s primary driver,” said Butler, as images of Buchanan past and future flashed on a large screen behind him. “The most important characteristic that people wanted in the community center — and we heard this over and over — is exclusivity, the feeling of being in the woods.”

For that reason, Butler cited the planned community center just north of Broadmoor Drive and comfortably distant from the main arteries east and west. A proposed traffic circle near Broadmoor would both provide access to the center and, hopefully, ease the pace along Bergen Parkway.

Evergreen architect Otis Odell was on hand to offer a taste of what Buchanan Park’s community center might look like. The centerpiece of Odell’s plan is a large meeting/banquet hall with attendant commercial-grade kitchen, flanked by an area that could potentially serve as an environmental education center, or almost any other public purpose. A wing to the east provides spacious accommodations for the Evergreen arts community, and the whole — somewhere between 20,000 and 30,000 total square feet — rests within an apron of expansive patios.

As envisioned by Butler, a network of trails would invite community center visitors to explore every part of the 67-acre parcel, and would connect with both the Elk Meadow system and the emerging North Evergreen Activity Trail. Just south of the center, children could safely lose themselves in an “adventure playground,” a somewhat more imaginative take on the swings and sandbox variety. Nearby, the Blue Spruce Kiwanis club plans a large picnic pavilion, a sturdy stone-and-timber construction and an attractive tribute to Evergreen’s original architect, Jock Spence.

A short walk north, perhaps through xeriscaped gardens, would reveal the outdoor amphitheater, an agreeably rustic venue featuring a covered stage and fresh-air seating for 500. Farther along, strollers might happen upon the veterans memorial envisioned by Evergreen’s American Legion Post 2001. Elegant and understated, the memorial will be funded largely by the sale of commemorative pavers. Peering through the curtain of pines east of the memorial, one can make out the broad meadow where future SummerFest visitors will stroll and snack and savor Buchanan’s natural flavors.

“I can’t wait for SummerFest,” Eggers said. “I think that’s when people are going to really see what a gem this park is, and start to get excited about its potential.

And all along the way, around any bend or over any knoll, hikers will discover sculptures erected by Art for the Mountain Community.

“They already have three sculptures picked out and ready to go,” said Peggy Eggers, who also performed the yeoman’s job of writing up the completed master plan. “In that sense, the whole park will be a sculpture walk.”

“I think one important outcome of this process has been to bring a lot of local community groups together,” Peter Eggers said. “Groups that have traditionally been on their own are now partnered with the district and each other to make this happen. That’s new to Evergreen.”

Even so, not everyone attending the Jan. 22 meeting went away sold on the master plan. Perhaps the single greatest objection raised concerned the size and number of structures planned. To that, EPRD board treasurer Allan Casey, who acted as liaison between the district and BPI, pointed to a diagram showing Buchanan Park divided into three distinct zones.

“The active zone covers the southern 19 acres of the park where the rec center, ponds and ball fields are now,” Casey explained. “That’s not going to change. The passive zone covers the northern 36 acres, including Denver Mountain Parks’ property, and that’s going to remain almost completely undeveloped except for trails, the vets memorial and some picnic areas. The 10 acres between them is the transition zone, and that’s the only place you’re going to see any new construction. The majority of Buchanan Park — about 60 percent — is set aside for passive use. This plan is the right balance between active and passive.”

Indeed, despite the unanimous vote approving the plan, some members of the board held out strong reservations. Board president Jeff Knetsch, for instance, believes that park management and maintenance would proceed more efficiently were the proposed community center sited closer to the existing recreation center. For her part, board secretary Kitt Darrow feels the center’s ambitious size could pose serious problems.

“I like all the outdoor stuff, but I question the sustainability of that giant building,” Darrow said. “It would dominate EPRD’s budget.”

Those concerns aside, the board gave the master plan a collective nod for the simple reason that it is just a plan, not a reality, and Buchanan Park’s final form will likely turn out to be something quite different. In a very real sense, the plan’s principal virtue is its flexibility.

“It’s a guideline, and it’s going to change,” said Casey, looking ahead toward years of further meetings, studies and debates. “Some of the bigger decisions about the park won’t be made by this board, and we’re still going to have a lot of community input before anything concrete happens. What this does is give us a starting place, and a basis to move ahead.”

In fact, district residents will get their first glimpse of Buchanan’s future this summer, when EPRD constructs the park’s perimeter trail – a meandering loop featuring both hard and soft surfaces and encompassing the length and breadth of the park.

Beyond that, Buchanan Park’s future rests largely on the shoulders of district residents. Before major projects like the community center and amphitheater can be seriously contemplated, Evergreen will have to sign off on at least one hefty bond issue, and possibly more than one.

“We’ve sunk $14 million into Buchanan Park so far, and we’ll probably sink another $14 million into it before the master plan is realized,” Casey said. “We’ve got years to go yet, and our ultimate approval is going to have to come from district voters.”

To see the complete text of the Buchanan Park master plan and view maps and conceptual images of its planned elements, visit www.buchananpark.org.