The sun was shining and temperatures hovered in the mid-60s on the morning of May 16 — a perfect day for a hike.
Bill Smyth and his wife, Jane Grogan, of Centennial decided to get out of the city and take that hike at Roxborough State Park. And the couple trekked right into a birthday party.
The Colorado State Parks System turns 50 this year, and the visitor center at Roxborough had a variety of activities Saturday to celebrate.
Children had their faces painted and could hug Talon, the 6-foot-tall eagle that serves as park mascot. There were also educational stations with volunteers explaining the many uses of the yucca plant or displaying the fur coats of several animals common to the park.
"I just think it's great that the state invests money into the protection of land and this beautiful area right near the city," Smyth said. Smyth said he and his wife have visited Roxborough a dozen times over the last 10 years.
"I just think it's great that the park is younger than I am," Grogan said, laughing.
In fact, even though the rock formations at Roxborough State Park represent 1.2 billion years of geological activity, Roxborough has been a state park only since 1975.
Cherry Creek State Park in southeast Denver, created in 1959, is the state's oldest state park.
Grogan said she and her husband had no idea that the state park system was celebrating its 50th year May 16, but they are happy to help support the parks because of what they get out of them.
"I like the nature, the flowers and the birds," Grogan said. "Just getting away from the city for a bit makes it all worth it."
Ella Lefebure of Lakewood spent the morning teaching park visitors about the yucca plant and the many ways that Native Americans used it in their daily lives. Ella, 11, was clearly enjoying herself as she explained how to use the plant as a paintbrush, or how the roots and inner part of the plant can be used to make soap, or how the fibers can be weaved together to make soles for sandals.
"I've really had a lot of fun out here," Ella said in between her teaching sessions. "Before now I did not know how important yucca was to the Native Americans." She said she was happy that she came to the park on the day the state celebrated the system's birthday.
"This is truly one of the most special parks in the Denver area," said Ann Wederspahn, who has volunteered at Roxborough for six years. She brought Ella to the park May 16, so they could edify visitors about yucca.
While pondering the park system's birthday, Wedersphan seemed to get lost in her thoughts, looking around at the rocky outcrops around the visitor center.
"They're all so special in their own way,” Wederspahn said. “I love them. But Roxborough is a gem. This is one of the wildest."
Barbara Borkan, another park volunteer, moved from New York City to Highlands Ranch in 2001. She was very knowledgeable about the history of the East Coast, but she wanted to learn more about the West, which "has a different type of history."
"What better way than to become involved in the park?" she said.
Inside the visitor center, Gary Wederspahn showed 4-year-old Arthur Lefebure an exhibit detailing various bird nests found in the park. As Arthur sat transfixed, Wederspahn summed up his feelings on the state parks system and what it means to him.
"These places are fantastic for kids of all ages," he said, pointing to young Arthur. "But that goes for me, too. I'm pushing 70, and I can't get enough."
Number of state parks: 42
Total acres: More than a quarter million
State parks close to South Jeffco: Roxborough State Park and Chatfield State Park
Total acres at Roxborough State Park: 3,316
Total acres at Chatfield State Park: 3,895
Year both parks became official state parks: 1975
For more information, visit www.parks.state.co.us.