Geometrically planted trees thrive decade after man's work to establish park in aunt's memory


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LARAMIE, Wyoming — The features of the park dedicated to Ruth Lucille Rasmussen are anything but arbitrary.

The Canadian red chokecherry trees stand in the shape of an equilateral triangle, paced off at 132 inches per side.

Limestone boulders form an oval at the feet of quaking aspen trees, which surround the rocks in an arrangement meant to mimic a dream catcher.

Eric Rasmussen, the park's creator, calls it the "aspen dream catcher" and said it might be the only one like it in the West.

Moments after a rain shower Friday, Rasmussen took a stroll through the Beitel School Outdoor Education Area — dedicated to the memory of Ruth Lucille Rasmussen — a swatch of land that was owned by his family from the 1920s until 1995.

He placed a hand on the white bark of an aspen trunk and looked up toward the crown in admiration.

"I remember staying up nights until 2 or 3 o'clock in the morning, slow-trickling water into the roots of these aspen," Rasmussen said. "I wanted them to be healthy, to get as big of a healthy root base as they could. And they did. And look at what they've done now."

The aspen were 8-10 feet tall when he planted them. Now, the tallest stands at about 40 feet.

June marked the 10th anniversary of the completion of Rasmussen Park, which stretches in a skinny rectangle across Sheridan Street from Beitel Elementary School.

From 1998-2004, Rasmussen spent countless hours in the park, offloading boulders, planting trees and bushes, landscaping and building fence.

He did so to remember the legacy of his aunt — Ruth Lucille Rasmussen — who was struck by a car and killed on May 6, 1929. Today, the park exists as a reminder that something beautiful can grow from tragedy.

"I'm proud of it," Rasmussen said. "I know my parents (Leroy and Dorothy Rasmussen), who are both gone — from this world anyway — are proud of it as well."

Rasmussen's grandfather owned the land between 17th and 18th streets for two blocks to the north in the early 1920s, Rasmussen said.

His grandfather sold most of the property, but it proved too difficult to squeeze a dollar out of the dirt patch lining Beitel.

"He was never able to sell that strip of land, because it's an odd-ball shape," Rasmussen said.

Rasmussen's father donated the land to Albany County School District No. 1 in 1995 and asked that the land be used to help educate students.

He also asked that the School District name it park after his sister, Ruth Lucille Rasmussen. A 9-year-old at the time, Ruth Lucille Rasmussen was walking back to Whiting School after lunch. She turned down an alleyway, and the driver of the car that hit her just didn't see her in time, Rasmussen said.

"She was in fourth-grade, so it's kind of special, because the fourth grade classes study Wyoming history, and they're the ones who have helped take care of this park," Rasmussen said.

In 1997, then-Beitel Principal Robin Devine planned to create an outdoor classroom. Rasmussen had just returned from teaching for 21 years in Asia, and they collaborated with fourth-grade teacher Beth Clingman to create the park.

"We basically sat on it and planned it for a while, but in June of 1998, it started officially being built," Rasmussen said.

The vision was to make it a space where Beitel students could learn, he said. Various objects in the park make it possible for students to study "trees, leaves, math, social studies and language arts."

For that reason, Rasmussen planted chokecherry trees in an equilateral triangle. Several granite boulders in the park were donated by a Shirley Basin rancher named Tom Dunlap, whose step children attended Beitel. Students studying Wyoming history can use them to learn about geology, Rasmussen said.

Even the aspen dream catcher — "a natural chamber with green walls" — ties in with students' education, he said.

"Fourth-grade students study Native American culture, and we wanted them to come over and sit on those rocks and kind of daydream and relax," he said of the dream catcher.

"The whole idea was to make a place for students. And it's turned into what I think is one of Laramie's nicer pocket parks. It's a one-stop natural learning shop for students at Beitel."


Information from: Laramie Boomerang, http://www.laramieboomerang.com

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