Guest column: Sayre Park’s future as rich as its past
It was the mid-1930s when James Sayre moved to Glenwood Springs. A geologist from Oklahoma, Sayre used to visit Glenwood in the summer to fish the Fryingpan River. He was certain that oil shale would be the answer someday, so he decided to invest in mineral rights in Garfield County and purchased property on Red Mountain as well the land that is today known as Sayre Park.
“He called it his ranch. It had a log cabin and horses,” said Sayre’s granddaughter, Kris Gardner. Gardner says she believes the log cabin still exists in the backyard of a property on Highland Park Drive. (The property with the cabin was recently listed, according to local Realtor Amy Luetke.)
“In 1938, the U.S. government opened a Civilian Conservation Corps camp on the property,” said Patsy Stark, archivist for the Glenwood Springs Historical Society. “It housed 200 men and included a barracks, mess hall, Army garage and headquarters. The men worked on improvements to the Red Mountain Ski Course (which Sayre had helped develop) and the Glenwood Springs municipal airport.”
In the summers of 1943 and ‘44, the camp buildings were used to house prisoners of World War II. After the war, Sayre donated the land to the city to use as a park with the requirement that if it was not used as a park, it would revert back to the family.
“At one point, there was talk of putting a fire station on it, but the original vision was that it would be a park for recreational purposes. My grandfather was adamant about that,” said Gardner, who ended up producing the deed to City Council to protect the use of the land and remind councilors of the original agreement.
In the 1960s and ‘70s, Sayre Park was the location for the Strawberry Days Queen Pageant, according to Stark. It has also been the long-standing location of the Strawberry Days festival, which is why the park is sometimes referred to as Strawberry Park.
“We simply called it, ‘the park,’” remembers Garfield County Assessor Jim Yellico, who grew up playing basketball at Sayre Park. “Every night, we would run basketball games where you would call your own fouls and winner stays. The games were unbelievably intense. Rarely, one team would hold court all night, but not without several dog fights along the way. There was a lot of talent that developed there — state championships started at the park.”
Yellico is also a founding board member of Game On Camps, which runs its outdoor youth basketball and baseball camps at Sayre Park. Game On Camps, in partnership with Mike Picore of Hoop d’Ville, hope to help bring the Sayre Park basketball court back to its former glory.
“The Parks Department has been great at helping replace the rims, nets and keeping some general maintenance up, but the hazards around the court continue to be a concern for the safety of anyone playing out there,” said Picore, whose annual outdoor basketball tournaments draw players from around the state.
Yellico agrees that the condition of the court has become a safety concern for younger players as well. “The current court is sloped, cracked, nonregulation and known for rolling ankles on the raised edges of the asphalt. It needs a simple, yet comprehensive rehabilitation — increasing the borders behind the baselines, raising or lowering the hoops to the proper height, and fixing the grading away from the edge of the asphalt.”
Picore says that proceeds from the last two Hoop d’Ville tournaments have gone into a general fund to pay for landscaped renderings of renovations to the park to “help get the project moving.” Local businesses, including Bay Equity Home Loans, Bank of Colorado and City Market, have also rallied around the idea, and one local construction company even offered to regrade the asphalt at no cost.
With a preliminary plan in place and resources gathered, Yellico and Picore presented the vision for the restoration project to the Parks and Recreation Commission this past winter. The plan included not only regrading the asphalt, but adding better lighting, new backboards and special features, including a paved walkway and an intermediate court, to make the courts more accessible to younger children and athletes with disabilities.
Parks staff and the city engineer met on site at Sayre Park in January. Though they decided to approve some of the minor safety improvements to the basketball court surface, Jennifer Ooton, public information officer and the parks and rec interim director, said the city wants to form a master plan before approving any of the larger renovations.
“Our hope is to fix the grading issue west of the existing basketball courts sometime this year. Regarding any additional improvements, it was the recommendation of the Parks and Recreation Commission to have those improvements considered as part of an overall master plan project for the park,” said Ooton. “The city engineer is working on creating a scope of work for a master planning process right now, and we would anticipate that we would have a public process sometime in the summer of 2018 to identify and have the public participate in thinking about improvements to the park overall.”
Both Yellico and Picore agree that the initial improvements are a step in the right direction, though they had hoped to receive approval for the entire first phase of the project which was tentatively scheduled to be completed by the summer.
“This is something I have wanted to do since the first time I played on those courts and realized the history they had,” said Picore. “Whenever I’ve talked about doing it, people are always very interested in helping; it has just taken us 15 years for it to get off the ground.”
From geological homestead to POW camp to the sacred home court for many of Glenwood’s state champions past and present, residents and businesses agree the legacy of Sayre Park is worth protecting and investing in and are looking forward to the announcement of the city’s next steps.
Cassandra Irving (Cassie Hailey when she attended Glenwood Springs High School) is a Glenwood Springs native who founded Game On sports camps, some proceeds from which go in part to help Dalit girls — lower-caste people in India.
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