Most of us who live in the city are accustomed to a horizon line where nearby rooftops meet the sky. Now, with the completion of Denver’s newest parks in North Stapleton, city dwellers can enjoy the experience of the prairie, with its long flat expanse of open space stretching to the mountains. These new parks, though located in Stapleton, are Denver regional parks. When the City of Denver sold the old airport land to redevelop it into a neighborhood, a key condition was setting aside public park land, with big parks like these intended for use by all Denver residents.
On September 16, landscape architects, planners and builders who had worked on the parks came out to celebrate their completion and share their vision with the community. Craig Vickers, landscape architect with Civitas, gazes out over the big circle at Prairie Meadow with the enthusiasm and wonder of a child who has just received the grandest gift ever. Vickers, who works on national and international projects, says, “The whole thing is pretty remarkable. I’m trying to think of anywhere else in the country that has this. Not like this. Not to this degree. I mean there are great parks and park systems everywhere, but, associated with one community, having so much diverse park space as Stapleton has, let’s put it this way, there are not many.”
Colorado’s prairies were the inspiration for these grand parks. “The prairie is at its most beautiful when it’s untouched by humans. Where you just see beautiful vegetation that meets the sky on the horizon line. Uninterrupted,” says Vickers. So how did that inspiration lead to this grand circle we’re looking at? He explains how the wind from the Rocky Mountains pushes around the sand and silt and it piles up in a series of crescent shapes.
The architects’ idea was to take the curve of the crescent, “purify the form” (into a circle), and build it at a giant scale. “We thought if we created that, it would be a really interesting grand scale gesture that would enframe a big public lawn for all the festivals and informal soccer and play… This was meant to be the livingroom space.”
The circular walkway atop the mounds (and over the bridges) offers a beautiful, wide-open view of the city and the mountains. But there was a hidden objective to those mounds. “We thought if we made the landform large enough that there would be places where you could see the sky at the top of the landform—and it would be a prairie-like experience,” says Vickers. “And so when we were originally conceiving this, we thought, maybe in the middle you couldn’t see any houses. Then we started thinking about the accessibility of it and we had to lower it. But you can get that experience in places, and that’s a really neat thing.”
The parks were engineered to serve as a stormwater drainage system, but the drainage area was also designed as an amenity. “We’re trying to vegetate this with natural wetlands species and grass species, where our intent is that this is as fun for kids to play in as these kinds of evironments were to play in when I was a kid. Playing in water and messing around with stones and catching frogs and stuff,” noting that there will probably be a trickle most of the time.
Vickers adds that it took countless exceptional designers, constructors and development leaders to build all the parks in Stapleton—and all were teams that brought the same level of enthusiasm and attention to a vision as what he described for Prairie Meadow.
Most of these new parks and paths are open, but some will be roped off through November while new plantings take hold. Please enjoy what’s open and respect what’s closed off.
For a map and photos of more parks in North Stapleton, click here: Parks