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Paonia okays town park entrance plan

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Photo by Tamie Meck A coating of Christmas snow brings out the features of the iconic miner statue at Paonia's Town Park. The town council approved plans for the statue to anchor a new entrance to the park at the corner where the miner has stood for near

The corner of Paonia Town Park where the miner's statue stands will soon be designated as the official entrance to the park.

Paonia trustee David Bradford presented a proposal for upgrades to the southeast corner of the park, where the miner's statue has stood tall and proud for almost 35 years. The appearance of the area has been the focus of complaints to the town, said Bradford, who also serves on the town's public works, utilities and facilities committee.

In September, a proposal calling for replacing vegetation with a large stamped concrete pad was tabled after trustees asked for input from the public and the mining community and urged more creativity in any future designs. Trying to move the project forward, Mayor Pro Tem David Bradford researched the history of the statue and other memorial items found in the southwest corner of the park, and reached out to members of the mining community.

Based on what he learned, Bradford proposed a new revitalization plan, which he presented to the board at the Dec. 12 meeting.

The proposal would designate the 40- by 55-foot corner of the park as the official park entrance. The existing white fence would be removed from around the statue area, as would the vegetation that has been planted in the area in the past 15 years. The pink peonies, which according to a brass plaque are "the original peonies for which Paonia was named," will remain.

The area currently includes the statue and the names of 68 miners who died in mine-related accidents between 1906 and 2007; a drinking fountain dedicated to Melvina Clark-Hall, whose family donated the park property to the town; and a bench dedicated to deceased members of the BMW Motor Cycle Club of Colorado. The club's Colorado Top O' the Rockies Rally is held annually at Town Park, and funds raised by the club helped to pay for improvements to the area, including planting of the vegetation, a concrete path, and the memorial bench.

The town will commission Hotchkiss metal artist Ira Houseweart to construct an archway at a cost of approximately $5,000. Houseweart's metal works can be found throughout the area, including at the entrance to the Hotchkiss High School football field, at the entrance to Paonia River Park and in the river park's metal access ramp. Sculpture designs would be based on the local ranching, mining and business history. "He's a wonderful artist and does some wonderful work," said Bradford.

With the exception of the words "Paonia Town Park," the final look of the arch, as well as the remainder of the area, will be based on suggestions from the community. Since Melvina Clark's family was among the earlier settlers in the area and dedicated the property for the park to the town, Bradford suggested that the water fountain be repurposed as a stand for a sculpture, to be determined later on. The fountain no longer functions after being vandalized numerous times.

Bradford said he estimates a total cost of $25,000 for the project, but believes it could be less depending on concrete and other bids. The town has approximately $20,000 in Colorado Lottery money in its Conservation Trust Fund account that can be used for the project.

Bradford said that Adam Camacho, whose dad was killed in a mining accident in 1998, suggested funds be raised through sales of memorial bricks, which helped fund the Paonia Library.

A committee was formed to oversee the final design and implementation of the project. Donny Emmons, who served on the original committee that brought the statue to the park, and John Poulos from West Elk Mine will serve on the committee. They will come up with designs and present their ideas to the board for final approval.

Bradford said he would like to see the project completed in time for a Memorial Day dedication, which would mark 35 years to the day since the statue was dedicated on that rainy day in 1983.

Please turn to B2 to read the history of the coal miner statue at Paonia Town Park.

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