Aspen’s stationary parade on the Fourth of July provided much to see and do that was patriotic and festive, with local businesses and nonprofits coming together to celebrate, providing fun for locals and visitors alike. The hundreds of kids on bikes who showed up were exempted from the stationary element, and in fact, were anything but that, tearing energetically around the streets, having a great time. All in all, the whole event was thoroughly “Aspen” in terms of vitality and a good spirit.

One of our favorite moments was provided by the Tibetan monks of the Gaden Shartse Monastery, playing their sacred music next to Paradise Bakery, unintentionally accompanied by the Aspen Music Festival and School playing jolly and patriotic marches across the street. This fabulous mashup of culture and art on our streets perfectly represented our small community’s values and enthusiasms to everyone present. 

But we should remember that these events aren’t just there for tourists. It’s currently fashionable to gripe about the vast number of visitors and second homeowners in town — and there are, clearly, some inconveniences caused by the crowds, not least the traffic. But when we step back and look at the amazing array of opportunities for culture and fun that our nonprofit community works so hard to create, the advantages of our busy Aspen summer hugely outweigh the disadvantages. And for people with children, the opportunity to provide them with interesting and varied experiences and stimuli cannot be beat. So let’s claim summer for the locals and dive in!

This region may be considered rural and remote, but kids growing up in Aspen get to experience so much, and that’s in addition to our extraordinary mountains and all the incredible outdoor activities they offer. There really is no better way of bringing up children who are open minded and curious than to take them to it all — and to talk to them about everything they are seeing and hearing.  This is not the ideal year for travel, and many of us can’t afford the time or money to get away. But thanks to the Aspen summer, we can give our children vacation experiences in our own backyard.

So much of what’s available is free or very affordable. You can sit on the lawn outside the Benedict Music Tent for a performance or a rehearsal, let the kids run around on Fanny Hill during the Thursday night concerts, or go for a mini hike around ACES at Hallam Lake with your little ones. If you’ve never done it, walk around the art fair in the park, visit an exhibition at the Aspen Art Museum (and stop by the rooftop cafe), check out the music events for children put on by AMFS and the Pitkin County Library, visit the animals at T-Lazy-7, stop to listen to the buskers on the mall, explore the ghost towns, and even go to the theater, as we did recently, watching the excellent Theatre Aspen students performing Shakespeare in the John Denver sanctuary. Free Shakespeare in the Park by kids!

And thanks to the incredibly dedicated staff at the Aspen Youth Center, the city of Aspen and Snowmass day camps — and dozens of other camps, activities and programs — local children can be happily and positively occupied with their friends, all summer long. Almost all these programs offer scholarships and financial assistance, and in the event that parents need more help, Aspen Family Connections is there to help families track down the extra resources they may need.

Summer always seems to fly by when it’s here, but at the end of the school year, the long summer months seem to stretch ahead in a way that is incredibly stressful for parents who are worried about child care and keeping the kids busy and out of trouble, all while being able to work as much as possible. This year, prompted by the pandemic, our organizations Kids First and Aspen Family Connections brought together many camp providers to talk about public health and the needs of families. We’ve been so grateful to all those programs (and there are many) who came forward to help find spaces and places for some of our most vulnerable kids. And this is work we want to continue to improve in the future: helping families plan ahead earlier in the year and removing some of the parental stress. Here’s hoping we can all find time to get out and have some summer fun together. And as  Aspen regular Warren Zevon once said, “Enjoy every sandwich.”


Growing Community, by Shirley Ritter, the director of Kids First, and Katherine Sand, the director of Aspen Family Connections, runs every other Wednesday in the Aspen Daily News. It features topics of interest related to early childhood, parenting and education. To reach the authors, email Shirley at or Katherine at