Boulder, CO

Boulder Parks and Recreation examines history of park names

Kathryn Bistodeau

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Kathryn Bistodeau

The city of Boulder Parks and Recreation department completed the first phase of a project to research Boulder park names last month, as a first step toward potentially renaming some.

The project aims to research Boulder’s parks, see what they were named after, and examine what history is being commemorated with those names. If a title is reflecting values that no longer fit with the Boulder community, a more appropriate name will be suggested.

The project’s executive summary says its goal is to, “evaluate existing park names to identify those that by contemporary community standards may not reflect city values and develop a naming strategy that deliberately furthers the city's Racial Equity Plan goals and strategies.”

Alison Rhodes, the director of Boulder Parks and Recreation, said that the first phase of the project was “to understand patterns and contexts in our park names.” This included partnering with the University of Colorado Boulder’s history department to research the history behind the names.

In a Parks and Recreation Advisory Board Meeting, CU graduate student Kim Jackson described the research done by students so far. Out of 82 parks and properties in Boulder that were researched, Jackson said 29 were named for individuals or families. That’s 35% of parks immortalizing a specific person or family from the Boulder community. And while 19 parks were named for men, only six were named for women, and only one for anyone in a minority group — Emma Gomez Martinez Park.

CU History Professor Paul Sutter participated in the research, and said renaming won’t rewrite Boulder’s history.

“I think memorialization is a very different thing than history. It’s renaming a park, it’s not erasing history. It’s shifting who and what we memorialize, not remember,” he said.

Rhodes also stressed the importance of speaking with community stakeholders before permanently changing any park names. These stakeholders include people who live near a park, stewards of Boulder’s history, and anyone affected by the decision to rename.

“It wouldn’t be something you do to the community, it would be something you do with the community,” she said. “People care passionately about their parks, including what they’re named. So we would want to harness that passion to make the community and the naming be more representative of our entire community.”

The next steps in the project will be to vet the research and then talk to stakeholders. After that, the Parks and Recreation board and project team members will identify parks for potential renaming. The renaming likely won’t happen until at least 2022.

“It is a conversation that communities committed to equity are having, and our community is committed to equity,” Rhodes said.

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I love writing about the arts, politics and uncovering stories that have yet to be told. As a recent alumna from the University of Colorado Boulder, I'm excited to write about the community that was so amazing during my college years.

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