Cherry Knolls neighborhood: 'It's like a family — I kid you not'

For decades, Centennial neighborhood has come together around pool

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Just off the sprawling East Arapahoe Road, the Cherry Knolls pool is only a few seconds' drive away from Centennial's main thoroughfare. But behind the twisting streets and tall treetops, it's the heart of a neighborhood, where people gather and carry on connections that cross generations.

“I can go down here and tell you almost everyone's name. I know them from being here. You make friendships — real, strong friendships,” said Luke Ouellette, an involved member of the Cherry Knolls neighborhood.

Like many people who frequent the pool, he's laid down roots that crisscross others: His in-laws are close friends with the parents of another man who grew up in the neighborhood — just like Ouellette's wife did.

Those are the kinds of bonds Ouellette can rattle off about people at “family night” at Cherry Knolls pool, a gathering that can bring huge crowds to the pool at 3601 E. Costilla Place on Thursday evenings.

“It's swimming, a meal, volleyball, families catching up,” Ouellette, 39, said. “We'll get 175 to 200 people each family night in June.”

It's a neighborhood staple that stands on a storied past: Neighbor Ben Brock helped start family night in the early 1990s, according to a Cherry Knolls Improvement Association newsletter. Brock recently died, but a bench dedicated to his memory is being finished right outside the pool with money raised by Cherry Knolls residents.

The pool opened in the 1960s, said Chad Naughton, a 47-year-old neighborhood resident. And when it faced a possible bulldozing, a group from the neighborhood came together to buy it before it could be razed in the early 1980s, according to the Cherry Knolls Swim Club Board.

That spirit of connection to the pool continues today, as neighbors hold family nights to bring people together and raise money for the operation and maintenance of the pool, which is run by the swim club board. The club includes as many as 275 active members at any one time.

The neighborhood also comes together around its youth summer swim team, the Cherry Knolls Neptunes, which serves kids ages 5 to 18 who can swim at least one lap unassisted. The team is open to people outside the neighborhood, but they have to be members of the pool, said Ouellette, adding that people in that community include faces from areas like Parker and Littleton. The team competes in a local network against other neighborhoods, Ouellette said.

As a group independent of a homeowners association, the swim club board puts on many events, such as a Fourth of July barbecue, a derby watch party and more. Conrad Steller, who grew up in the neighborhood, started The Steller Group Real Estate and held a customer appreciation night — a pool party with entertainment and food — at the Cherry Knolls pool in late July.

“What this pool is about is community — bringing back that `20s and `30s neighborhood you used to have. You used to know your butcher, your dentist,” Ouellette said, adding that people don't know their all their neighbors anymore. Cherry Knolls neighbors look out for and take care of each other, he added. Ouellette is the “co-social chair” on the swim club board.

For other neighborhoods that might want to start the same kind of deep community bonds, Ouellette said: “It's going to sound cheesy, but it just takes people wanting to care and wanting to be part of something bigger than themselves.”

Katie Hess, the other co-social chair, noted that where she grew up in California didn't have that kind of atmosphere.

“It's like a family — I kid you not,” Hess said. “We always joke around and say we moved into an anomaly. I can rely on anyone in this neighborhood.”

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