A snowman in Denver's Cheesman Park on Thanksgiving Day 2020. (Eric Lubbers, The Colorado Sun)

The Colorado Sun on March 18 shared an op-ed about how we should re-open Cheesman Park to cars.  Per the opinion essay, closing it to cars permanently would perpetuate the “smell of elitism” hanging around Cheesman Park.  

While the Denver Department of Parks & Recreation is returning cars to most parks that were car-free during the COVID-19 pandemic, I fully support Parks’ decision to retain Cheesman Park’s circle for the people.   

I agree with the op-ed’s authors that Cheesman is a great regional park, yet it appears that opening the circle to people did not significantly decrease activation of the park.  As the essay agrees, Cheesman Park was heavily activated last summer, despite COVID and parking restrictions.  My office received numerous complaints last summer about how Cheesman Park was becoming a COVID super-spreader location.   

Denver City Councilman Chris Hinds

Cheesman Park is nestled among the densest neighborhoods in Denver, again as the essay agrees, and it’s entirely possible to fully activate Cheesman (or over-activate it) by drawing from the entire central-Denver region even without cars around the circle.  Many visit it without using a car at all.  

Cheesman Park is also centrally located near several major transit lines, and RTD wants those lines to return to normal as quickly as we want our city to return to normal.  

For those who choose to drive, there are plenty of parking options nearby, along the streets that all of us pay for.   

The op-ed discusses Cheesman Park’s past: It was built from a 1902 design that was designed “specifically to accommodate motor vehicles.”  Denver is far different than it was in 1902: The population was about 130,000, and most traveled by foot.  If you were lucky, you had a horse-drawn carriage.  In 1902, only the elite owned cars.  

Frankly, I’m glad we’ve moved away from Cheesman Park’s elitist roots and are allowing everyone, including those who cannot afford (or choose not to own) a car today, access to such a wonderful amenity.   

Denver now has more than 730,000 residents, and it’s important we continue to shape our city for the future based on today’s needs, not the needs of 100+ years ago.  Lots of households in Council District 10, which I represent, don’t own cars at all; having a location within a pedestrian’s reach that is absent car smog, sights and sounds resonates with them.  

It’s amazing to hear all the positive comments from people who share that they had forgotten how calming it is to have a view of grass, trees, and the mountains that isn’t full of car noise. 

Just about every neighborhood in this region has people in constant fear of driver vs. pedestrian crashes, too.  Having a respite nearby that is devoid of that tension helps us relax and reconnect with our neighbors.  

So many of us in Denver want to protect the parks we have, and certainly there are those who fear that Denver is losing park space — both current parks and potential parks.  

Over the last year that Cheesman Park has been more fully open to people, we’ve heard from so many who celebrate the stronger connection to nature and the planet.  

We’re working to improve and enhance our park system in other ways, too.  

District 10 is actively working to review Denver’s central region park system, including reviewing the plan for Civic Center’s next 100 years and “paving” the way for the 5280 Trail to re-shape some of our streets with additional urban canopy and neighborhood amenities.  Denver Moves Cherry Creek is also moving forward in 2021, and that might mean some improvements for Cherry Creek Trail near the mall.  

All this, and that’s not even mentioning all that’s happening thanks to the decision by the voters in Denver to dedicate tax funds for new park acquisition.  

I’m so glad these opinion authors brought this to our attention, and I am elated that we are removing terrible smells from the air and elitism from Cheesman Park.

Chris Hinds represents District 10 on the Denver City Council; the district includes Cheesman Park and surrounding neighborhoods.

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Councilman Chris Hinds

Special to The Colorado Sun