As discussions of racism and social justice swept the country in 2020, Alison Rhodes (Hist, Span’01; MPubAd’16), director of Boulder Parks and Recreation, wondered about the naming of Boulder’s parks, and whether they properly reflected the city’s commitment to diversity and equity. She approached the CU Boulder history department to see if students could help research the origins of the city’s park names.
Then-department chair Paul Sutter and then-director of undergraduate studies Phoebe Young, along with doctoral candidate Kim Jackson (PhDHist’24), eagerly designed the project, which spanned four semesters. More than 75 undergraduate and graduate students contributed to the project, researching the names of and visiting nearly 50 parks.
“It was meaningful for the students, especially in 2020,” said Rhodes, who’s worked for the City of Boulder for nearly 20 years. “But it really was meaningful for us, too.”
Connor Siruta (Hist, PolSci’22) worked on the project as a student and an intern in spring 2021. As a student, he focused on the purposes of the physical landscape — such as the grassy areas and its trees — of his assigned park, Keewaydin Meadows, located in east Boulder. During his internship, he researched the origins of several park names, including west Boulder’s Eben G. Fine park.
Siruta’s research determined that Eben G. Fine, besides being a strong Boulder supporter, also engaged in racist stereotyping. Siruta uncovered a journal entry that defended actions of Captain David Nichols, who was involved in the Sand Creek Massacre.
“The namesakes of parks cannot be brushed away,” said Siruta. “The history behind them can really affect people.”
The students’ research was posted in an online story map on the City of Boulder’s website. Several park names were identified for renaming consideration, said Rhodes, and will be discussed by the city with input from the community. The research findings also will guide naming for future parks.
The students themselves enjoyed the opportunity to partner with the city, said Young, a professor of history who researches the cultural and environmental history of the modern U.S.
“Students felt a sense of empowerment that they could communicate their work to the city,” she said.
Photo courtesy City of Boulder