Out of the Woods: Aspen’s longtime parks and rec manager retires

Out of the Woods: Aspen’s longtime parks and rec manager retiresOut of the Woods: Aspen’s longtime parks and rec manager retires.

Carolyn Sackariason.

Aspen Parks Department Accomplishments since 1997.

A look at the work under Jeff Woods:

Open Space Acquisitions.

(1,661 acres of new open space)

Sky Mountain Park; Aspen Mass; Burlingame/Deer Hill Open Space; Mills Property; Moore Playing Fields Open Space; Macotte Open Space; Smuggler Mt. Open Space/Additional Mining Claims; Hummingbird load; Barbee Open Space; James H. Smith Open Space; Jennie Adair Open Space; Cozy Point Ranch; Cozy Point South Open Space; Millionaires Load Open Space; Procter Open Space; Ute 1010; Little Cloud; Dolensek Property; Lindsay Parcel; Ute Mesa; Hunter Valley Way; Holy Cross Open Space.

Snyder Park; Moore Playing Fields; Rotary Park; Anderson Park; Francis Whitaker Park; Molly Gibson Park; Yellow-brick Park; Harmony Park; Burlingame Parks 2&3; Across the Pond Park; Waite Robison Park.

Natural area conservation projects.

Al Bloomquist Wetland (Marolt); Snyder Park; Community Campus Wetlands/Native Areas Creation; Maroon Creek Wetlands; John Denver Sanctuary ; Smuggler Mt. Management Plan; Procktor Wetlands; Ute Cemetery Restoration; Marolt Wetland @ Roundabout; Jennie Adair Wetlands; Aspen Golf Club Native Areas Project (in conjunction with golf course improvements)

(23 miles of trails)

Sky Mountain Trails; Butterline Trail; Highway 82 Trails, bridges and underpasses; Old Stage Trail; Burlingame Trail; Deerhill Trail; Burlingame Connector Trail; High-school Trail; Highlands Trail; Terral Wade Bridge; Water Plant Trail; Waterplace Trail; Ajax Trail; Post Office Trail; Rio Grande Trail; Smuggler Trails; James H. Smith Interpretive Trail; Mascotte 99 Trail; East of Aspen Trail; Wheeler Ditch Trail; No Problem Joe Trail; Snyder Park Trail; Oklahoma Flats Trail; W. Hopkins Trail; Bergman Trail; Meadows Trail; Cemetery Lane Trail; Ute Cemetery Trail; Ute Trail; W. Hopkins Trail; Fabi Benedict Bridge; Williams Ranch Trail; Bob Helm Bridge; Clark’s Cutoff Trail.

Major parks projects.

Snyder Park; Community Campus playing fields; ARC; Aspen Golf Clubhouse;

Aspen Golf Course Improvements; Yellow Brick Park; Rio Grande Park/John Denver Sanctuary; Wagner Park; Galena Plaza; Burlingame Parks; Wheeler Park; Ute Cemetery Historic Restoration; Jennie Adair Park; Molly Gibson Park.

After 23 years and hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of open space acquisitions, park development and trail building, Jeff Woods, manager of the city of Aspen’s parks and recreation department, is retiring.

Aspen’s landscape has served as a palette for Woods’ creative side as he’s taken his green-scape vision and turned it into reality at dozens of locales around town, including Wagner Park, the Aspen Skateboard Park, Maroon Creek and Jenny Adair wetlands, Snyder Park, the Aspen Golf Course, Burlingame and Promontory Park, the Aspen Recreation Center (ARC), the Aspen Community Campus near the public schools, and numerous open space areas, to name a fraction of what’s been accomplished since Woods came into his role in 1997.

“In his heart he’s a designer and an artist,” said Annie Denver, who collaborated with Woods on what they both describe as one of the most inspiring and important projects of their lives — the John Denver Sanctuary.

The sanctuary, located next to Rio Grande Park, pays homage to Annie’s former husband, singer-songwriter John Denver, who was at his heart an environmentalist and lover of Aspen and all of its natural beauty.

After Denver’s accidental death in the fall of 1997, Woods approached Annie Denver and asked her to help him encapsulate John’s ethos of environmentalism and to memorialize him.

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“Annie said she wanted to do something other than a memorial and I couldn’t come up with an idea. … I was freaking out,” Woods said last week. “Then Annie had an idea of a song garden and amphitheater and I quickly sketched it up to what it looks like today.”

It is now a destination for visitors and residents alike, to come and pause, reflect, enjoy and find some solitude on the banks of the Roaring Fork River with Aspen Mountain as the backdrop.

There are 63 boulders placed throughout the sanctuary that are engraved with the lyrics of John Denver’s songs, as well as inspiring quotes from some of the great thinkers and artists of the world that he admired.

“Our hope is that when people leave, it connects very deeply inside of them and they take that back to their communities,” Annie Denver said Friday. “It was such a gift to do it and it turned out even more wonderful than we imagined it to be.”

Woods led the in-house, multi-year design and build-out of the sanctuary to make it even more than just a place to connect with nature.

It serves as the city’s stormwater filtration system with a series of vaults and wetlands that cleanse and filter water that comes off of streets and buildings during a storm and during the spring runoff season, thus taking tons of debris and pollutants out of the Roaring Fork River.

“Jeff is intuitive and has sensibility of how things go together,” Annie Denver said. “What Jeff gave to Aspen and assembling the teams has been remarkable.”

Woods and Annie Denver each received a proclamation from the city last week acknowledging their work and collaboration on the sanctuary and dedicating June 9 as “Jeff Woods Career Appreciation Day” and “Annie Denver Appreciation Day.”

Woods, 64, who will step down from his position later this month, said it’s been a reciprocal relationship he’s had with the community and the city.

He showed up at a time when the community was hungry for more open space, trails and parks.

There already was a 1% dedicated sales tax for parks and open space that voters had passed in the 1970s.

Woods was part of a community-wide effort to get an additional 0.50% sales tax passed, with hundreds of millions of dollars in bond authority to create dozens upon dozens of recreational opportunities in Aspen.

Prior to his arrival, the groundwork had been laid to build the Cemetery Lane trail, amenities at the golf course like the clubhouse and tennis courts, the ARC, the nearby ball fields, and the trail along Highway 82 that goes from town to the Aspen Business Center.

“Voters saw something positive for the community. … My job is that I am a weaver and pull on the tapestry of that community,” Woods said. “It’s a socially enlightened community and it’s been amazing.”

By far the largest budget in the city, Woods managed about 100 people, 58 of whom are full-time employees.

His department has taken a hit this year due to COVID-19 with a massive drop in sales tax revenue, forcing roughly $4 million in cuts in staffing and capital projects.

But outside of that, Woods has been able to enjoy being a department head whose job is to make life better for Aspenites and visitors.

“The fun part of this was the open space piece of this,” he said of the multi-jurisdictional acquisitions and designing of Sky Mountain Park and Smuggler Open Space, which are havens for hiking and mountain biking.

There’s also Cozy Point Ranch that was preserved as open space, as well as more than 1,000 dedicated acres all over the upper valley.

Woods, who has previously worked as a landscape architect for places like the city of Denver and the National Parks Service in Zion National Park, worked for six mayors and three city managers during his tenure with the city of Aspen.

“I love politics. That’s the way things get done,” he said, adding he served previously as a city councilman in Idaho Springs. “It’s all about showing what the possibilities are.”

That has resulted in over 30 parks, 40 miles of trails and almost 2,000 acres of open space in the city.

During Aspen City Council’s June 9 meeting when Woods’ retirement was recognized, Councilwoman Rachel Richards said his knack for getting things done and bringing people along has resulted in an overall betterment of the community.

“People like you make politicians look good, and that’s hard to do,” she told Woods. “When we told people we are going to put a park here and we’re going to do this, there’s always a lot of skepticism, but every single one of them turned out so fabulous and after the first few, there weren’t any questions anymore.”

Woods plans to retire with his wife, Julie Ann, who is the community development director of the town of Snowmass, at their second home in Pueblo.

As he reflected on his decades here, Woods said it wouldn’t have been possible without having the support of the community propping him up.

“I had an opportunity to change the green structure in town,” he said. “It’s been the greatest ride of my life.”

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