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A Case Study of How Citizen Activism Can Work

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This book was written primarily to honor the scores of citizens who worked to obtain a major central park in Lakewood, Colorado... in the face of strong opposition from their elected leaders. It is also meant as an encouragement to all civic activists (who seek worthy ends) to keep moving forward even when the odds seem stacked against them.

Lakewood, Colorado existed for decades as a large, populous unincorporated area on the west edge of Denver. In 1969 its residents chose to formalize their community by incorporating.

Early in the life of the new city residents began expressing their wishes that a major estate near the center of Lakewood be saved as open space and a park. The new city leaders saw the 200+ acre estate as a great future source of tax revenue once it was developed for retail, office and residential uses. That divide in civic values led to what was ultimately described as a David vs. Goliath battle.

At age 73 May Bonfils, the woman who had created the beautiful Belmar Estate, married a man who was 27 years her junior. She left him half of her estate, including control over it. He had already sold-off some of the land and was eager to sell-off more and develop the rest.
By 1969 the wealthy Ms. Bonfils had been dead for 7 years

At that point the relevant 200+ acre portion of the estate featured a 20-room mansion that had been built in the mid-1930s, at the height of the Great Depression at a cost of $1 million, as a lavish replica of the Petit Trianon Palace located on the grounds of the Grand Trianon Palace of Versailles in France.

The “gem-like” Belmar Mansion was located on 10-acres of lush landscaping with a swimming pool, a marble fountain and lots of statuary... overlooking a private 36-acre lake. Wanting her estate to be a private oasis, Ms. Bonfils had the lake and the rest of her property declared a state licensed Preserve to prevent “hunting, fishing or trespassing for any purpose.”

She was protecting a herd of 30 mule deer, preening peacocks, ducks, geese and swans that she had brought onto the property. She used part of the property to set up Belmar Farms where she raised prizewinning Suffolk sheep, Black Angus cattle, milk cows and chickens. She also raised oats and barley on an adjacent parcel of her land.

That 200+ portion of the estate was the land and features Lakewood citizens wanted to save in the late 1960s and early 1970s. This book chronicles the citizen vs. city hall battles that eventually saw the citizens prevail over their elected officials and local power brokers by a 2 to 1 margin at the ballot box. It is now a public park featuring natural areas and open space, including picnic areas, a small playground, hiking/jogging/biking trails and bridle paths, with a small year-round flowing stream, a restored lake and a bird sanctuary.

In a nut shell, Belmar Park has become a large natural oasis and place for serene contemplation in the middle of Lakewood... a park supporters of the late 1960s and early 1970s had hoped for... a park that exists only because of persistent citizen activism.

When this saga began, Lakewood had about 3 acres of park and open space per 1,000 population. Due to these citizen-driven efforts to save land for parks, by 2019 Lakewood now boasts 45.8 acres of park and open space per 1,000 population.

It is the hope of the author that other citizens who have contrarian aspirations for their communities will take this story as an inspiration to press forward (regardless of the odds) and let their activism improve their communities.

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