Honoring the price of freedom A memorial park in the making

Photo courtesy Larry Reed
Veterans Memorial Park of Archuleta County in late September, following the completion of the first phase of work on the park. The park is slated to ultimately include, among other things, trails, benches, picnic areas, educational/recreational features and a memorial honoring Archuleta County’s veterans.

Just west of Pagosa Springs sits Archuleta County’s newest park, the Veterans Memorial Park of Archuleta County (VMPAC), adorned simply with a flagpole and a parking lot.
The flagpole was the first thing to be installed and is a direct representation of the park’s purpose and the mission of the organization behind it: “To develop and maintain a Memorial Park in honor of all past, present and future Veterans of the Armed Forces of the United States of America; to be a place for Veterans, their families and the public to remember, reflect and contemplate the sacrifices of these individuals; and to serve as an educational venue.”
Implementing that mission is a little more difficult, but for the organization and its board of directors, it is a goal worth working for.
The board comprises veterans and family of veterans, with membership in the VMPAC organization open to all.
Current president Karin Daniels is the daughter of a World War II veteran whose death inspired her work with the VMPAC.
“I have been volunteering with this organization since 2015, shortly after my Dad passed away,” Daniels wrote in an email to The SUN. “He was a WW2 veteran and was in the 10th Mountain Division – hence my passion for working with these amazing veterans.”
Other VMPAC board members include Vice President Jim Stone, Secretary Trista Nauman, Treasurer Jim Van Liere and board members Jim Huffman, Raymond Taylor, Val Valentine, Roy Vega and President Emeritus Dick Fortier.
The organization puts in countless hours each year to raise funds for the design and development of the park, which is anticipated to cost around $2 million, according to Daniels.
The VMPAC annual golf tournament alone takes thousands of hours of effort, Valentine pointed out.
“Each year the annual golf tournament, presently our number one fundraiser, takes an estimated 2000 hours from a total board effort,” he wrote. “The tournament is growing, each year attracting more players and greater community support. It is becoming a means to reach out with community knowledge and involvement for the park.”
The golf tournament is one of the many fundraisers the group organizes, with Daniels explaining that each board member “spends a significant amount of time trying to raise awareness and funds to make this project a reality. From procuring flags to presentations of past experiences to creative ideas for fundraising to several hours a month attending meetings, this group does it all.”
But, as Vega noted, the effort is and will continue to be worth it.
“For me it is the fact that every community in the nation needs to have a visible, tangible and hallowed place of some kind as a stark reminder for succeeding generations of the service and sacrifice of prior generations as the price of the freedom they enjoy and in turn will defend,” he wrote.
“The park will become a gathering place for families, individuals and community to recreate and reflect of freedoms gained and purchased,” Valentine wrote, “A place where children and families will build memories, and veterans and their families can pause and return to the past.”
A park in the making
The park’s development began in earnest in October 2014, when the Pagosa Lakes Property Owners Association deeded a 6.9-acre parcel of land located off Vista Boulevard to Archuleta County.
The county then granted it to the VMPAC board to be developed as a veterans memorial park and public recreation site.
“After several years of fundraising and a generous grant from Archuleta County, construction began on the park in June of 2018,” Daniels explained. “Phase One included the minimal and essential work necessary to construct a parking area with the hopes that it will physically and visually attract interest to the project as well as provide access to this beautiful area while the park is being developed.”
That work was completed in August at an approximate cost of $110,000, she reported.
“Inasmuch as part of the parking area is finished, it may be used,” Van Liere explained. “If used, please remember that this is hallowed ground honoring our past, present and future veterans, and as such should be treated and used with the utmost respect. If desired, flowers may be placed at the base of the flagpole to remember and honor loved ones. Dead and dying flowers will be removed periodically.”
The next phase is slated to include the finalization of the park’s layout (a preliminary plan was previously developed), which is slated to include a trail plan, placement of picnic areas and benches, expansion of the parking area, restroom facilities, a pavilion, a playground, military exhibits with interpretive signage and educational components, and a central memorial area with placement of personalized memorial bricks.
Then, each of those components will be assigned a phase and will be completed as funding allows, Daniels explained.
Daniels anticipated that the park could be completed in three to five years.
“The order in which the phases will be completed depends on the availability of funds, personnel, time and donated goods,” she explained. “For example, building a trail system throughout the park is a relatively low-cost project and has already raised interest from locals. Ultimately, the cost for this park project will be approximately $2,000,000.”
To raise funds, the board has applied for grants, conducted four golf tournaments, sponsored special movie showings, organized a special dinner for Gold Star parents and continuously sells memorial bricks to be placed in the memorial section of the park.
In 2017, the Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners donated $80,000 to jumpstart construction of the park.
Van Liere commented that several individuals, too numerous to mention, have also donated funds, for which the board is very grateful.
Ultimately, the VMPAC will return to county ownership.
“Once the park is completed,” Daniels wrote, “it will become County property and a public park, a true asset for a community lacking in public areas.”
How to help
Anyone and everyone is invited to become a part of the park effort, Daniels and Valentine noted.
“Become a member of the VMPAC; support fundraising events; buy a brick to remember a loved one; tell your friends about the community effort to build a Veterans Memorial Park; look for opportunities to contribute by volunteering individually to help build trails, develop the plan, sell bricks and raise funds,” wrote Valentine of how individuals can help.
Membership is open to all in the form of a regular membership at a cost of $25 per year, a charter membership at an initial cost of $100 and $25 per year (limited to 100 memberships) and a lifetime membership of $500.
Charter members receive a certificate and numbered key fob and lifetime memberships automatically become a charter membership and receive the same plus a dog tag and a free 4-inch-by-8-inch brick.
Additionally, donations may be sent to the Veterans Memorial Park, P.O. Box 2642, Pagosa Springs, CO 81147.
For more on the park, how to become involved and more, visit http://www.vetsmemorialpark.org.