You can see on those summer evenings when the sunlight stretches across from the west in between the old public trees.
It’s a different kind of light. It’s softer, warmer and feels like the universe is a little more welcoming.
The rays of light race from the top of the Sangres, through the Wet Mountain Valley, across the foothills, across the Arkansas River and shine on the smiling faces of families for one evening at the Rides at City Park.
If Ken Burn’s, the documentarian, called the National Parks – America’s Best Idea, what should we call a city park’s amusement park for children?
Maybe from the outside, the century-old carousel and the little rides don’t look like much, but what isn’t seen is everything. They are one of Pueblo’s great equalizers, where no matter what side of town you grew up on, or who your parents were, you could enjoy being a kid for a few summer evenings a year.
Parents take their kids. Kids take their parents. For some, it’s their first summer job. For others, it offers the first time to escape from the realities of Pueblo life for an evening.
This is by design, of course, and the central purpose of public parks, but what the rides at city park offer are more than just that.
In the past 20 years, Pueblo importance on high school connections has waned. It’s always been a throwback to when a high school degree would punch your ticket. Now, not even a college degree can do that; the allure of a 1960s picket fence, middle-class life has waned.
When Pueblo talks there is no other city in Colorado that quite has a community like this; Pueblo is really saying, “Other cities have amusement parks, but we have ones that link childhoods through the decades.”
For those under 48-inches tall, the story ends there. For the rest there is the question, how do you keep these intrinsically Pueblo moments and still grow? How do you keep out the feeling of bland commerciality found across the front range from seeping in and ruining Pueblo while improving it at the same time?
If Pueblo and the county were to add another 200,000 people all these special bonds that are shared through generations like summers at City Park, or the Colorado State Fair, autumn evenings at the Bell Game, breakfast at the Pantry, or a quick lunch at Pass Key would become less special.
If there is some movement upward, Pueblo loses the one thing that makes Pueblo small and connected.
There is this fear of forwardness that has infected Pueblo – to grow something else can never replace it.
Isn’t that what is at the heart of Pueblo’s fear to become big once again? Isn’t it why Puebloans just find it easier to buy the lie that things should remain small and Pueblo should remain an island unto itself.
The fear is that a place like the City Park rides would lose their specialness and the link to generations past would be broken.
But inside ‘The Rides at City Park’ is the answer. The city has made a little section on the old south end of Pueblo about more than just the rides.
Sure, at first, when you walk in it’s about the rides but there is intention here. And on nights that Parks and Rec goes all out for the children of Pueblo, you can see that the rides are only just a vehicle. What makes Pueblo special is that intention.
On the night I went it was by accident. I was zipping around City Park and saw a bunch of families in Disney costumes. It was Princess Night where young park workers dressed as princesses for families and for the little girls who, for one night, had their Disneyland.
For the rest of us, we know the difference, but when you see a 6-year old hold up her Frozen dolls to a young park worker dressed up as Elsa, you see it. You see that what’s missing in Pueblo is intention. This young girl had her special night and fairytale land.
When you see a young girl maybe no more than eight, with a walker, dressed up as a Disney princess, laboring to meet Cinderella and Prince Charming, who were just two kids for the summer asked to play dress-up, it’s a moment that changes if you want to see it.
To that young girl of eight, it means all the world as she flashes her smile and it’s her Disneyland.
For the last 40 years, as the law of scarcity has destroyed a belief in Puebloans that good times can come again, Puebloans have forgotten what it is that makes Pueblo special–the one thing that no other city on the front range has and Pueblo is so scared it will lose.
When Puebloans are at their best, they transcend this Pueblo smallness of the past. The bonds that connect each other aren’t found in high schools, or rides, or even events.
In this moment on ‘Princess Night,’ this child, one who didn’t ask to be born this way or struggle to meet her dreams, flashes her beautiful smile and for that moment, for that one evening, Pueblo exists only between her and the young royalty who pose with her. Prince Charming and Cinderella may never know how important this moment was to the young girl.
This moment happened because it was all about intention. The intention that Pueblo can still be for you, it can still make you, it can still be a place where dreams become reality because Pueblo wanted to be big again. This time it was Princess Night.