In Health-Conscious Denver, Limits on Group Exercise
By JACK HEALY
July 10, 2013
DENVER — The Saturday morning workout crew had survived a grueling round of push-ups and sprints, crunches and lunges under a broiling sun in the heart of the gentrifying downtown here. But as they got ready for the day’s sweaty coup de grâce — balancing acrobatically on their hands — they were alerted that their exercise routine had run afoul of the rules.
“Excuse me, you can’t be here,” said a manager from a nearby condominium office. He pointed across the outdoor plaza to a sign prohibiting group exercise. “It’s clearly marked.”
Maybe it was the sun, or the heat, or the 100 sit-ups they had just done, but the exercisers were incredulous. They were getting kicked out of the plaza? For working out? “Really?” asked Chris Lindley, a gym owner who was leading the boot camp.
Really. In Denver, one of the healthiest cities in America, fitness fans are fuming over rules from the city and private officials that restrict group exercise in parks and open spaces.
A sign near the city’s Commons Park.
MATTHEW STAVER FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES
“You can smoke pot, but you can’t exercise,” Mr. Lindley said, as the scent of a newly legalized substance drifted past. “This is Colorado.”
A skirmish over exercise in the public square seems fitting in a place where people spend more on road bikes than on their cars, and Lycra attire is the unofficial uniform of the weekend.
Officials and neighbors say they are not trying to discourage fitness, but they say the sweaty throngs can be a nuisance, monopolizing sidewalks and fields. They say personal trainers and fitness centers are taking unfair advantage of taxpayer-financed public spaces, rather than paying for gym space.
Trainers and the fitness mavens who assemble in Denver’s parks roll their eyes at those arguments. It’s summertime, they say. And in a country battling obesity and high rates of heart disease and diabetes, they say, governments should be doing everything possible to get people up and moving.
“It’s just ridiculous,” said Chris Lasater, 46, who joined a fitness boot camp one Saturday morning near Commons Park downtown. “Nobody needs any discouragement to get active and healthy. If somebody can put their shorts on and get out the door, people should be clapping.”
The city rules are clear: No commercial activity without a permit. Historically, those rules mostly applied to concerts, festivals, races and food vendors. But in the past few years, the growing popularity of group training programs like CrossFit has filled the parks with clumps of people doing yoga, running suicide sprints and crab-walking up and down hills until their lungs ache.
On weekdays, there are the moms. Last year, Caren Elenowitz took over a business called Stroller Strides, which runs daily workout seminars for mothers with young children. They jog around the park while pushing their strollers, do squats while cooing to their infants and strengthen their quads while singing “If You’re Happy and You Know It.” She charges mothers $55 for a month of classes.
Last year, after her community newspaper ran a story about Ms. Elenowitz’s business, she said she got a call from Denver Parks and Recreation informing her that because she did not have a license, she could not run her workouts in Central Park in the Stapleton neighborhood.
“I went home and cried,” she said. “It’s not like we’re bumping into other groups. We’re not going to play chicken with bikes. We’re not going to push other people off the path.”
Other fitness groups were told they had to decamp from the parks, but they said the city relented after a few weeks, saying they could temporarily return while park officials figured out a way to regulate the exercisers. After months of meetings with trainers, neighbors and park officials, they have devised a plan that would create new a new system of fees and permits.
People will still be able to get together to play Frisbee or soccer. But if money changes hands, said Jeff Green, a Denver Parks spokesman, “you need to have a permit.”
The City Council is expected to take up the details of the permit system this month. Amy Fuller, who runs several fitness groups for new mothers, said the fees could cost her as much as $1,200 a month to use the city’s busiest parks at the peak times of day.
“They totally priced us out,” she said. In response, she has relocated some of her classes from western Denver to the nearby suburb of Edgewater, and she said officials there were happy to have them.
The New York Times