Similar to the slow-boiling frog metaphor, wherein our national numbing to the botching of everything fair, reasonable, and civil continues in unconscious surrender, Aspen citizens are gradually losing their public-space rights. 

I’m talking about the two-month-plus domination of Wagner Park by the three-day Food and Wine event (aka the grass killers) through May and June. There is nothing “Classic” about the annual affair; superlatives have become cheapened by overuse, but that’s another topic.

What originally started in 1983 as a public event that alternated venues between Snowmass and Aspen has now grown into a locked-down, exclusive entitlement to public spaces. This $1600-per-head private fiesta overwhelms citizens’ rights to open streets, parking spaces, and non-profit lounging in downtown parks during peak off-season and premium summertime. This year more domed tents than ever before outdo Denver International Airport.

And in case you hadn’t noticed, les gastronomiques have outgrown Wagner and expanded into Paepcke Park. Watch out as service trucks, security people, cordons, and fences start to engulf Paepcke and its surrounding streets as well. They’ve also invaded Koch Park with truck  and equipment storage. As of now, a citizen can still walk through Paepcke and sprawl on unoccupied grass, and possibly toss a Frisbee without security guards nixing spontaneity.

The three-day economic tsunami notwithstanding, the problem, dear city council, is the inherent unfairness to citizens who should be first in line for public park use in peak months, not to mention the now-annual overindulgent sod-replacement blitz ironically akin to an over-priced Aspen facelift. Such excess causes acid reflux, even gout.

Not long ago citizens’ parking was stripped away for buses on the Aspen Mountain side of Wagner Park. Then, for no apparent reason, citizen parking was eliminated all along the west side of Wagner opposite the Limelight. This, coupled with Wagner being usurped way before and after Food and Wine, strikes at the heart of the concept of “public park.”

While the entitlement sentiment who want this revenue generator smack dab in the middle of town has a singular motive, our city council ought to rebalance this elitism versus citizens’ rights, especially alongside the losses of public space due to endless construction everywhere always.

Some suggestions heard on the street—where polling is mostly negative—are: give Food and Wine back to Snowmass because they need the business more than Aspen; consolidate the festival in Rio Grande Park (same problems there but less invasive); bus them back and forth from a venue at Cozy Point Ranch (elites don’t like to be bussed, but Snowmass might harvest some dollars, too); rotate celebrity chefs through a highlighted feed-the-homeless tent; and (most interesting) circulate a petition for a public vote to free Wagner Park from non-public events.

As it stands now, citizens are gathering Marie Antoinette’s crumbs. In any case, RIP Anthony Bourdain. 


Tim Cooney