By Michael Golembesky
21st Space Wing Public Affairs staff writer
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — A quiet place to take a stroll during lunch and gaze at aircraft and ponder the technological marvels they represented in past eras is available here courtesy of the Peterson Air and Space Museum.
The Peterson Air Park, which is the outdoor portion of the Peterson Air and Space Museum, has received an Award of Excellence from the Historic Preservation Alliance of Colorado Springs for its contribution to preserving heritage. The HPA is an organization concerned about local cultural, archeological, architectural and natural heritage, and annually recognizes preservation in those areas. The wing’s award was in the HPA’s civil restoration category.
The park was designed in 1991 by the 21st Civil Engineer Squadron in conjunction with a local architecture firm to pay homage to historic pre-World War II structures as well as historic aircraft.
“They are recognizing us for the historic preservation aspect because our history and the city’s history are one in the same,” said Al Rohr, chief of base development for the 21st CES, referring to the museum buildings which housed the city’s original airport from decades ago.
Originally the area was a hodge-podge of aircraft scattered about a large, dusty field with no real organization or story to tell. The plan and construction transformed the area into the landmark that it is today.
“We already received the design award from the Air Force when the museum and air park were originally created. This award shows that the 21st Space Wing has maintained it and protected it as a part of our heritage; this is aviation history,” said Gail Whalen, Peterson Air and Space Museum director.
“A lot of improvement has been made to the air park since then. We had one before, but it really wasn’t an air park. It was literally aircraft sitting around on horrible gravel lots; they were in poor condition,” said Whalen.
In the early 1990s, the wing leadership took a more aggressive approach to preserving and displaying the decommissioned aircraft with a complete redesign of the area, including preservation of the four original buildings listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
“The wing and command put a lot of emphasis in developing it for quality of life improvements for people on base to enjoy, people who live here, people who work here, so they could have a nice historical district to walk through and enjoy,” said Whalen.
The design and building of the park was only the beginning, but it had to be done right to incorporate the historical buildings that surrounded the space. The layout of the park was crucial to make sure it accented the museum and was not just a storage lot for old aircraft.
“The air park concept evolved around respect for Air Force heritage and trying to provide a park-like setting,” Rohr said.
“The wing created this wonderful air park that used the historical buildings to anchor it. So instead of just wandering around, they put everything into a beautiful walk-through-time concept,” Whalen said about the flow of the park’s design.
“The area went from the base’s central eyesore to the central park,” said Rohr.
Construction was complete in 2001, and since then it has taken a diverse team of organizations, sections and personnel to preserve and maintain the park.
“We are part of the bigger team. The people who work at the museum are the eyes on the ground, seeing what is happening. The other part of the team that makes it all happen is our civil engineers. They maintain and repair as necessary. The comptroller, the contracting office, we all work as a team to maintain this wonderful thing we have,” said Whalen.
And it is because of this teamwork and dedication that the air park has once again been recognized for its beauty and quality-of-life experience it provides for service members, their families and the surrounding community.
“An award like this shows everyone that 21st Space Wing leadership recognizes this is a unique opportunity and adds so much to the environment here. They are doing everything they can to ensure it is preserved and presented well to the public, because it’s important to the Air Force heritage, and to the public and the people who work here,” said Whalen.
To learn more about the Peterson Air and Space Museum and Air Park, go to http://www.petemuseum.org/.