It’s a grand old park in Eagle | VailDaily.com

It’s a grand old park in Eagle

EAGLE, Colorado – For 100 years now, the Eagle Town Park has been located, both physically and symbolically, at the heart of this community.

In its early days, the park saw rodeo action and community cookouts. For decades it was the place where Eagle baseball players competed. It has hosted popular community events such as Flight Days and ShowDown Town. Thousands of Eagle kids have frolicked on the playground equipment in nice weather or skated at the ice rink during the winter months.

In many ways, the park has been the lifeblood of the community and like Eagle, it has evolved and changed over time. There may be fancier facilities around town, but Eagle Town Park always holds a special place in locals’ affections.

Last Sunday, 375 children converged at Eagle Town Park for the conclusion of the 4th of July Bike Parade. They enjoyed treats and games and play, just like generations of kids before them.

“Town Park was always busy,” recalls Pam Schultz, an Eagle native who grew up just one house away from the park. The facility was her stomping grounds throughout the 1950s.

“That’s where we were all the time as kids. That’s where we spend our summers,” said Schultz.

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In those days, the playground at Town Park consisted of a metal slide, swings and a teeter-totter. “That slide got hot,” said Schultz. “And our dog used to play on the teeter totter.”

Schultz said Smoky, the family dog, loved to climb on one end of the teeter-totter and then make his way to the other end, tilting the equipment has he went. Then one day, the kids at the park taught the playful canine how to ride down the slide.

The trees at the park provided welcome shade to read a book or spend some quiet time, Schultz recalled. When winter rolled around, kids continued to converge at the park to skate at the outdoor rink. Local businessman Eldon Wilson hung a string of lights so skaters could whiz around after dark.

Schultz remembers attending many baseball games and family picnics at the park. During homecoming week at Eagle High School – formerly located on Broadway where the Eagle County Building now sits – Town Park hosted a spirited pep rally where an effigy of the opposing team was burned during a huge community bonfire. At Christmas time Santa Claus arrived at Town Park to take requests and hand out candy.

Long-time Eagle resident Theresa Lewis, 93, recalls how the Eagle Dandylions – the women’s club attached to the Eagle Lions Club – provided money for playground equipment at Town Park. Lewis said a man named Bob Bowler, who worked at the First Bank of Eagle County, was involved with building the community’s children’s baseball league and he collected donations to build a backstop at the baseball field. In 1964, Lewis and her husband Harry built their home across from Town Park on Sixth Street.

In those days, the park didn’t feature the lush green lawn it sports today. Locals remember grass at the park, but noted it was much more raggedy-looking and it was not irrigated. “I can tell you it was a dust storm when the wind blew,” said Lewis.

During the late 1960s, a basketball court and a tennis court were built at the park. “Harry and I went over there, but we had forgotten everything about tennis,” said Lewis.

“To me, the Town Park has always been the town’s ballfield,” said Eagle native Raenette Johnson.

When she was growing up in the 1960s, Johnson said the Town Park was where all the teams played – from Little League to adult baseball and softball.

“Jim Seabry (former Eagle Mayor) always said the park was designed as a ballfield,” said another Eagle native, Sonja Beasley.

Back in the 1960s and 1970s, the park was configured differently. The baseball infield was located in the northeast corner of the park, east of where the Centennial Stage is now located. “I do remember the field was more dirt than grass,” said Beasley.

Eventually, the town built restrooms at the park and the ballfield was reconfigured to place the infield at the southwest corner. Then, as the community grew, the park became the town’s most important recreational amenity.

Seven days a week from spring to winter, people played ball at Eagle Town Park during the 1980s and 1990s. By the late 1980s, the park was at its limit to accommodate all the play and the town made the controversial decision to approve night lights at the park.

“I was a festive atmosphere,” said Beasley, an avid softball player at the time. “You could tell who was playing by who was around town and you always knew when it was the Buzzards because Bill Hargelroad’s cheering. Softball just hasn’t been the same since they moved the fields away.”

Although she didn’t particularly enjoy the bright lights, Lewis enjoyed the days when the Eagle Town Park hosted all the ball games. She says it was always fun to peak out the front window to see all the action. But then, she noted, that’s always been a part of the advantage of living across from the park.

“That park has always really gotten used,” said Lewis. She laughed, remembering one afternoon when she was hosting a bridge game in her front room with Laurene Knupp, Jean Johnson and Joanne Braillier. The ladies all kept making mistakes because they were distracted by what was happening at the park. They decided they had to play in the Lewis’s back room, away from the park action, from then on.

In 1994, the Eagle County Fairgrounds ballfield complex opened an adult league play moved to the new facility. Kids continued to play both baseball and soccer at the Town Park. Additionally, hockey became more and more popular in town and Eagle’s only ice facility was the outdoor rink at the park. Until the indoor rink was built in 2003, the ice at Eagle Town Park was heavy scheduled for games and practices. To this day, volunteers flood and maintain an ice rink at Town Park every winter.

Every year since 1961, Eagle Town Park has come alive during the last weekend in June for the annual Flight Days celebration. In recent years, the ShowDown Town concert series has drawn large crowds to the park on Thursday evenings during July.

But while the park was transitioning from an athletic facility to an event locale, its amenities needed an overhaul. In the early 1990s, the popular playground was the first phase when a citizen’s advisory committee met with town officials to choose new equipment. That’s when the dinosaur climber, the bright yellow structure and the tire swing were installed.

While the park was becoming more and more popular as a concert venue, bands continued to play from a makeshift flatbed trailer stage. In 2006, the Eagle Town Board approved a comprehensive park upgrade that included construction of a stage, new restrooms and a new park configuration. Then-Mayor Jon Stavney noted there were newer and fancier facilities in Eagle, but Town Park was a fundamental part of the town’s character and it needed and deserved some attention.

The update included moving the tennis courts to a new location near the Eagle Pool and Ice Rink and grassing over the baseball infield. While kids games can still be played at the site, the reconfigured park is plainly designed for events rather than athletics.

The Centennial Stage opened in 2007 and was named in honor of Eagle’s 100th birthday in 2005.

This summer, Eagle’s most venerable locale is home to its newest event. On Friday evenings, the Eagle Farmer’s Market sets up at Town Park. Organizer Erin Vega said there were many factors to recommend the site including its central location, easy access and abundant parking.

“Plus, it’s just beautiful. It brings just the right atmosphere for what we wanted to accomplish,” said Vega.

Back in 1907 when George Haubrich wrote of the importance of preserving a central town park, he said no one could prophesy how great it could become in time. Turns out, that was a great prophesy. Eagle Town Park been the site for baseball action and casual summer play, great music and community camaraderie.

For the past century, Eagle Town Park has proven time and again that it is a grand old park.