Visiting other towns, you feel it. A welcoming sweetness that invites lingering. We hear it often in Carbondale circles: “I was passing through town and never left!”
At times this last month, Bonedale has felt surreal; the family tragedies unfolding at the borders over “money” and “walls” is just sickening. Heart wrenching. With a Columbian immigrant dad, who, ironically, married the daughter of a United States diplomat, I am first generation. How did I land here in Carbondale, where each day is a freaking gift? In a town that has carried me through so much of my adult life, with nothing but abundance, safety, and love? Clean air, clean water, safe food. A roof over our head and community.
Our town is especially welcoming, with its thankfully increasing diversity and melding of cultures, demographics and dreams. Contrary to most municipal and commercial marketing of communities, it isn’t just the “eat, shop, dine” aspects that make our town a warm place to be. There’s an inclusive quality, a “connect” factor involved, and those connections happen most easily when we have places to do that freely. Literally– freely– at no cost. That’s why public spaces, parks, benches, promenades– and even the closing of Main Street on First Fridays– is so critical to nurturing the essence of what makes Carbondale sing with life.
Our town kicks ass in this vein. Here are a handful of the endeavors and places around town making the effort, taking the steps, and planning for a community that feels good.
EARTH without ART is just “Eh.”
A buffalo grazes bunch grass on the valley floor, shrugging the mantle of Missouri Heights to its north and Assignation Ridge to the south. “Our” childhood tricycle, set against the Rio Grande Trail skies teases memories of peeling out and neighborhood drag races. On any given day, mosaics and Yule marble, stone, steel and even refurbished CDs tell stories and elicit emotion throughout Carbondale.
Since 2003, the Carbondale Public Arts Commission has been siting juried sculpture throughout town by way of their annual sculpture show. These fabulously diverse pieces from all over the United States bring to life our history, the dreams of human kind and the ecological web of our land. A typical moment on Main Street includes hands reaching out and touching, kids climbing, gawping and wondering. Family, friends and visitors snapping photos. It’s lively and infectious, each sculpture working its way into our emotional geography of place.
ARTway and the Rio Grande Trail
A new pulse is threading its way through the heart of town, letting cyclists, runners, dog walkers, lovers, friends and family wend their way about, freed from roads, traffic, noise and cars. (There’s even a pump track to exhaust your kids!) With its sights on becoming the gateway to Carbondale, ARTway is a collaboration of Carbondale Arts, the Carbondale Creative District and the Roaring Fork Transit Authority.
This one mile stretch of converted railway reclaims an industrial corridor between Highway 133 and Eighth Street. With three planned parks interspersed– Derail Park, The Latino Folk Art Garden and the Youth Art Garden– ARTway hopes to see the community come together through Nature and creativity. The parks will be community-built over the next three years, with artist-led charrettes and build-parties.
With another entry point at the Catherine Store entrance to Carbondale, this asphalt trace is somewhat of an intimate, informal back door to Bonedale, as it truly navigates the heart of town. From the Marble Distillery to the Carbondale Clay Center to True Nature Healing Arts, the Rio Grande Trail and ARTway open onto our downtown at key points along its way– town hall, our demonstration xeric garden and the Recreation Center. You can tap the Delaney Nature Park/dog park, Dos Gringos, Aloha Mountain Cyclery and even Little Napa once you learn a few short, secondary connectors.
Sink some roots and join in the creation of a community park; visit CarbondaleArts.com for dates and times to jump in.
“There are three things you can do to make the world a better place. Planting a garden is one of them” Seth Goddard, Creative District
True Nature Peace Garden
Written up as a gem in the heart of Carbondale, the True Nature Peace Garden beguiles, pulling visitors right off the bike path. It is unusual for a luxury-based business to invest so deeply in their grounds and extend a welcome mat to the public and yet they do. True Nature Healing Arts chose Carbondale over other locations in the valley for a reason– seeking to reflect the values of community and inclusivity inherent to their small mountain town.
The Peace Garden is a contemplative, veritable Eden, offering healing and peace through a series of exquisitely crafted experiences: a healing stone and pebble reflexology path; a transformative flagstone labyrinth; a sunken lawn, held in curving armature; and a fire circle ensconced within glassine cob benches. These extraordinary gardens sparkle and sing with life. The diversity of species is evident through unusual textures, pleasing compositions and boldly contrasting forms. Myriad botanical herbs, fruits, seeds and foliage speak to a primal landscape offering harbor and manna to all. It’s an exceptional place, all the better for the people who populate it.
The grounds to Carbondale Arts, Dance Initiative and the R2 Gallery and gift shop are sheer, sensual invitation. You cannot hit this Fourth Street hangout without snapping a sprig of sage or a sifting up a handful of strawberries. The Launchpad landscape was designed to lure, entice, attract and please the public with fruit trees, berries, and other perennial edibles. Anyone is welcome to pick, sniff and savor the edible gardens spilling from the beds, all the way around, to the rear, where raised beds sprout greens and veggies. Each year, sculpture and ephemera fill the lawn and gardens, inviting spillover from the weekly farmers market. There’s even been a wedding or two here!
Flying the freak flag of all things Bonedale, KDNK bridges the older, funkier east-side neighborhoods to Main Street. Community access radio applies the same welcome of their airwaves to their physical property, which underwent a face lift in 2014/15, under the energetic aegis of former station manager, Steve Skinner.
A 17-foot tall totem pole, crafted by local artist Bob Doyle, graces the front courtyard, blessed by John Bruna, dharma teacher with The Way of Compassion. The courtyard itself is a yard sale of bike racks, picnic tables and shade umbrellas. Locals hold meetings; Main Street employees dive into sack lunches or Fatbelly. The back is a “secret” stylized riverside getaway built and planted by volunteers over several weekend pushes. Sail clothes, camp chairs and kayaks support many of the same camp-side activities we partake of on the river: lunch, meetings, smoke breaks, down time and beer thirty.
“We have friends and allies using the space frequently,” says station manager/community dynamo, Gavin Dahl. “Recently Phat Thai did a staff BBQ out back.”
The KDNK Campground, as it’s called, is a labor of love. Many of its touches and features are the impulse of artists, donors, neighbors, volunteers, DJs and friends. It’s genuine Bonedale at its best, and sustainable to its core, from the design intent to the materials sourced, to the native and regional plant communities that will continue to grow and evolve– just like our community.
The Friendship Garden
This shady grove is a gift from the Rebekah Lodge. They purchased the lot and planted a garden, sinking roots into community versus just profit. With chosen values of Friendship, Love and Peace (what more could one ask for?), the garden is an invitation. Life unfolds here all day long at a much slower pace. From coffee to lunch, tokin’, giggling, kissing, and whispering, it’s an oasis of simple human connection– moms breast feed here, and dogs nap in the cool and quiet. A Facebook thread this spring reflected locals and long-timers pooling extra garden plants for Vicki Brown so she could plant the central garden. Thank you, Vicki!
Downtown Business Association Planters
The brain child of Chris Chacos, unofficial “ambassador” to Main Street and an original catalyst to the formation of the Downtown Business Association, the downtown pots are coveted opportunities to express yourself. (Rumor is, there was even some poaching action this spring!) A Facebook thread of 40+ comments demonstrated the cache of honor and fun these pots entail. Year after year, businesses and private community members dream up, purchase and plant the large containers, sprinkled throughout the downtown core, which the Town waters all summer long.
Some pots are traditional, with spikes, thrillers, fillers and spillers, laden in petunias, zinnias and variegated vinca. Other pots are social statements speaking to heritage– the Three Sisters of corn, squash and beans, a little amaranth; and celebrating the Rockies– DHM had a fantastic buffalo skull with sage and short grass one summer. Diana Mundinger, a longtime Eagle Crest manager, creates showstoppers every year, playing with all the crazy stuff they get in each season. In the winters, the Town places spruce trees in them, celebrating our winter season.
Main Street simply wouldn’t be the same without our beloved pots.
Community: Life. Diversity. Invitation.
There are other places, notably on Third Street, that serve in the interest of community. The library functions as more than a book nook. The chalk wall on the east side is a rotating canvas of creative expression. I’ve heard saxaphone and cello call through the dusk, and children’s laughter peal out after school. A friend of mine chose the night sky and sweep of grass hugging views of Sopris to weep in private on an anniversary of loss. Landscapes call to us, holding space and grounding for the soul to emote.
One block away is the community bread oven. On Friday evenings, prior to the Saturday morning bread bakes, volunteers fire it up. Neighbors converge from the four directions bearing basil, carmelized onions, sliced pepperoni or fresh mozzarella for Pizza Night. Peppino’s donates the dough. The bread oven provides sauce and cheese. There’s a helpful but not critical donation jar. Drop in some of your own dough, if you can. The sun falls. The light gathers. Children run about. Crickets sing. Bellies hum. Good stuff.
It doesn’t take a degree in planning to understand what makes a town feel alive: Collective action, contribution, investment and engagement.
The big question on everyone’s lips is the fenced off piece of grass on Main Street, in the heart of town.
Accusations and defenses fly amid conversation. There is no doubt that a four foot tall fence with No Trespassing signs causes questions.
It is private property with associated rights. Its long history intertwines in the hearts of Bonedalians. It was the open lawn on the sunny side of Main Street. With it’s dappled elm shade, dilapidated lawn chairs and outlandish ski seating, plus flowers, veggie pots and art– everyone was welcome. Between Theresa’s Latin market and the Food Co-op, it was a social crossroads we could all afford to enjoy. Kids licked Peppino’s soft serve, climbed the venerable elm and played tag. Drum circles filled summer evenings. Friends parked bikes, baby strollers and dogs, planting their very own bottoms on the lawn or the inviting seating. To this day, locals still poach it. Our hearts are still drawn to this place, rooted as it is, in our experiences.
Everything changes. Over time, we absorb both the “good” and the “bad,” striving mostly towards goodness, which often includes one another– connection.
Who knows what will arise there? Who is to say it won’t result in another iteration of possibility, of community veritas?
What we might all agree upon is that it is only a spirit of generosity that amplifies the quality of life in our town. Main Street is friendly ribbon of welcoming spots and creativity because businesses, organizations and locals make it so. It is WE who make Carbondale so wonderful.