Downtown Paonia is quite picturesque and is the center of activity for the community; but the town’s heart really lies within Paonia Town Park. This idyllic oasis of shade, offered by nearly century-old Silver Maple trees, serves as the gathering place for countless families and events. Its origins, as well as the various installations within the park, are all owed to the giving and dedicated nature of the people who have lived in the community of the North ‘Fork Valley over the last 100 years.
In September of 1882, the valley was opened for settlement. A few years later, Melvina Clark and her son, William Clark, purchased 220 acres of farmland for a grand total of about $400. It has long been rumored that the Clarks later donated the land for the park but, according to evidence unearthed by local historian David Bradford, it was the citizens of Paonia who organized and raised the necessary funds to purchase the land for the park.
In 1921, the current park in use was Mathews Park at 4th and Main but it was problematic because of its proximity to the river. An issue of the Paonian newspaper from July stated, “Paonia citizens propose an 8-acre new city park. The area is now a part of the Clark hayfields. It must be quickly done to prevent the site from being used for homes.” Several campaigns followed for the Paonia Park Fund including dances at the local grange hall. The land was eventually purchased from the Clarks in 1924 for the sum of $7,000. There is a fountain that rests in the plaza entry commemorating Melvina Clark as one of the original settlers and owner of the land.
The mobilization of the townspeople to purchase the land set the precedent for the park and all improvements to come. Time and time again, the townspeople initiated processes, raised funds, and worked with the Town of Paonia to realize each addition to the park. The original Silver Maples were planted by a group of volunteer citizens lead by Albert Bailey. Each time a new shelter was built or bleachers erected in the football field, it was the community that drove the projects, and the Town that helped to see them through.
In July of 1947, the local Lion’s Club decided to have a festival to raise money for lights on the football field. The one-day celebration met with such great success that the lights were purchased and they continued the tradition of the festival every year. Today, that festival is known as Cherry Days and is one of the longest running annual events in Colorado. The event has seen the park full-to-bursting with townspeople and visitors each year and provides a setting for class and family reunions, food and artisan vendors, as well as carnivals, games, and live entertainment.
The teen center, located in the park, is utilized for several events by itself. It serves as a meeting place for fundraisers and as a concession stand for high school football games. The building is dedicated to the late Ellen Smith who was an organizer and champion of the local youth for many years. Other additions to the park include picnic shelters, a modern playground, and a large gazebo stage that is the centerpiece for many sizable events including the annual BMW Rally, Pickin’ in the Park concerts, the Mountain Harvest Festival, and, of course, Cherry Days. None of these additions would be possible without the support and dedication of the Town of Paonia and the citizens who live here.
The opening ceremonies at this year’s Cherry Days will feature a dedication to the new marble wall that will frame and complete the Miner’s Statue Memorial Plaza at the southwest entrance to the park. The ceremony will take place following the parade at 11.15 am. The wall commemorates the people and events that helped to shape the North Fork Valley community and the park itself. Make your way down to the Paonia Town Park this weekend to remember the people that made it all possible and celebrate nearly 100 years of fun-filled events and quiet family days in the heart of Paonia.