Ernie Jenkins-Fields of dreams
Jenkins keeps parks pristine for everyone to enjoy them
March 29, 2004
Ernie Jenkins, the man paid to maintain the places where others seek peace, finds solitude in the Yampa River Botanic Park. “It is so beautiful and scenic down there in the summer,” Jenkins said. “It has ponds and waterfalls. It is really a beautiful little place. It’s my favorite park.”
That is a strong recommendation from Jenkins, who is in charge of looking after the city’s 22 parks and 75 acres of greenery.
The city’s athletic fields are as an identifiable part of Jenkins as his mustache and love of the New York Yankees.
It is on those fields that Jenkins has mowed grass, played baseball and softball, watched from the dugouts as a coach and screamed calls as an umpire. In his 10 years with the city’s Department of Parks, Open Space and Recreational Services, Jenkins has maintained and used the fields.
“He cares about the fields and the games that are played on them,” said Jenkins’ wife, Debby. “It is a point of connection. It isn’t just a job, he loves his turf.”
Jenkins’ job is more than just mowing grass. He has a staff of eight full-time employees who work with irrigation systems, pick up trash, clean bathrooms, clear the trails in the winter months and line fields.
The group also fertilizes and plants flowers and maintains playgrounds.
While the ski mountain might be the main attraction in the winter months, Jenkins would argue it is the city’s parks that bring in visitors in the summer.
“The summer tourism economy, we play a huge role in that,” Jenkins said. “Look at all the people who come in — Triple Crown, baseball tournaments, soccer tournaments, Art in the Park — so many of the things that bring people to town have their foundation in city parks.”
Although his New York accent has disappeared, Jenkins’ love of the New York Yankees reveals his original roots. Jenkins grew up in Port Washington, a suburb of New York City.
In 1975, he moved west and attended Fort Lewis College in Durango.
“When I went off to college, I wanted it to be more than just four more years of school,” Jenkins said. “Being in the outdoors was something I always loved.”
He has yet to leave Colorado, saying he fell in love with the mountains. He also fell in love with his wife in Colorado.
Jenkins met Debby, a Golden native, while in college. They were friends for years first.
The first time Jenkins and Debby crossed paths was in 1973 at an Eric Clapton concert at the Denver Coliseum. Jenkins was 16 years old and hitch-hiking across the country. The two didn’t meet that night, but years later figured out they were both at the concert.
Six years later, at a Grateful Dead concert, the two decided to start dating.
Debby said Jenkins had a slightly different image during the 1970s, one that may be hard for those who know him only as a dedicated father and city employee to envision.
After college and with a degree in forestry, Jenkins went into the landscaping business. He grew up mowing lawns and landscaping in the summer, so it was natural for him to go to work for a landscaping company.
From there he worked with the Parks and Recreation Department in Arapahoe County, looking after the green space in Littleton. In the Denver suburbs, Jenkins said his family was among the weekend warriors who jammed Interstate 70 heading for the mountains.
“We wanted to get out of the suburbs and back to living in a small town, in the mountains, skiing, fishing and camping,” he said. “Doing all the things we like to do.”
In 1993, Jenkins accepted a job with Steamboat’s parks and recreation department and in 2001 he took over as supervisor of parks and trails.
Parks and Rec Director Chris Wilson said Jenkins loves working with his crew and the public.
“He loves the outdoors,” Wilson said. “I have to keep him in doing administration stuff.”
Wilson said Jenkins is passionate about his job and is great with the public.
Debby said her husband has an uncanny ability to remember names and details about people.
“Everybody loves Ernie, even dogs,” she said.
Jenkins admits he likes being outside and at the end of the day enjoys stepping back and looking at the results of his labors.
“It is more of a joy to me when the public gets to see and appreciate your work,” Jenkins said.
During his off time, Jenkins hunts, skis and camps. “Very often we go to Moab if we don’t have the money or gumption to go somewhere tropical,” Jenkins said. “We throw in the tents, the bikes and the dogs and go camping.”
Jenkins also is a well-known Yankees fan, a slight rift in his marriage with Debby, whose father is from Boston and grew up a Red Sox fan.
She said there relationship has seen some lows: the Red Sox’s devastating loss in game six of the 1986 World Series to the New York Mets and this fall as the Red Sox’s and Yankees battled for the American League Title.
“We actually have friends come over to watch us watch the game,” Debby said. “We try not to get too personal.”
From the time his son was in T-ball, Jenkins has been active with his children’s sports. He coached baseball, softball, basketball and football. Jenkins and Debby have two children, Lennae, a 20-year-old student at Pacific University in Oregon, and Dillon, a 16-year-old student at Steamboat Springs High School.
“Coaching was a great way for me to meet people. I made a lot of new friends and stayed connected with my kids,” Jenkins said.
When called upon, Jenkins will still umpire a baseball game, but now his efforts are focused on being president of the Steamboat Springs Booster Club. The club is a volunteer parent, nonprofit organization that raises money for school athletics and activities.
It was the group that helped pay for the high school’s track, prints the seasonal programs every year and covers physicals.
“I wasn’t good enough to coach at the high school level, but still wanted to stay connected with my kids,” Jenkins said. “This helps a lot of kids. It does more good for more kids.”