A few months into the pandemic and about a year after he moved from South Dakota to Central Park, Jeff Dunn bought the last bike that was available at a neighborhood bike shop. “I wanted something to do, but I had no plans beyond that,” says Dunn.
That purchase proved life-changing. In September of 2021, seeing a map of all Denver parks at the Central Park Recreation Center gave Dunn an ambitious idea. “I told my wife that I think I’d like to bike to every park.”
What arose on a whim turned into his “Park Quest,” as Dunn’s two grown children and grandkids dubbed it, and in 12 months he biked to each of the 209 Denver urban parks. “I biked three or four days a week regardless of the weather, and I took time in each park to do something,” says Dunn. “Sometimes I would journal or read a book, but my favorite thing was to engage others and hear their stories.”
As the year progressed, the Park Quest enabled Dunn to improve his health and elevate his mind. “I became a better person,” says Dunn. “I was more compassionate and considerate of others, from watching out for others biking on the road, to growing in empathy for the communities I rode through and the people I visited.”
Dunn has endeavored for positive change throughout his entire life. He gave back to his communities while serving in the corporate world, he trained several state champions as the owner of a gymnastics school, and he ran twice as a Democrat for the South Dakota Legislature. “That was nothing compared to the one-on-one interactions on the trail,” says Dunn. “Here in the Central Park bubble, we can all vote the same way and think the same way. But when you’re getting out on a bike, you’re interacting meaningfully with all ages and all walks of life.”
Wherever he rolled, Dunn had enlightening experiences. He stopped more than once to repair a stranded teen’s bicycle, played basketball with a recent high school graduate trying to figure out what to do next in life, and took time to encourage a young person who was skipping school to stick with his education. At Confluence Park, he paused to watch a Catholic charity hand out meals and was surprised when a man collecting aluminum cans urged him to grab a hot dish. During their conversation, Dunn learned that this man was staying in a Salvation Army shelter and that he was having trouble finding shoes to fit his large size. Fueled by his newfound desire to connect with people, Dunn ordered shoes online and headed to the shelter a few days later.
“I learned what a great city Denver is and how many nice people are here,” says Dunn. “I also realized that the best way to create a more tolerant and peaceful world might be to talk and to listen.”
While Dunn usually rode solo, his grandson Braylon joined him occasionally and soon adopted Dunn’s practice of intentionally noticing others. At Union Station, Braylon slid a few dollars to a street performer while saying, “that guy is like a lemonade stand for the ears.” This was especially moving to Dunn. “I can hardly remember it without a few tears. My grandson had done a lemonade stand a few months ago at our house, and he could see that this was another way of people stopping to care.”
Certain parks emerged as Dunn’s favorites during the journey. He enjoyed a small playground that he now visits regularly with his family, and he appreciated that Ferguson Park—in South Park Hill—is just steps away from a coffee shop and bookstore. Other favorite parks included City Park, Washington Park, and Cheesman Park. “Cheesman is especially great on weekends,” says Dunn. “That’s when the street performers are out, kids are playing on the playground, and people are playing volleyball, running laps, or walking their dogs.”
After a year of biking to parks all throughout Denver, the last stop for Dunn was Bonnie Brae Park. His family was there to celebrate his arrival with champagne and a picnic lunch. Dunn was greeted by his wife, his son’s family, and his daughter flew out from Los Angeles with her family as well. His family plans on having a bench installed in a city park to commemorate Dunn’s impressive achievement.
Although Dunn was proud to complete his mission of biking to every park, he’s now ready to embark on his next journey of riding to Denver breweries. “We’re going to go with two other buddies, get out there, and see new things,” says Dunn. “It really is true that life is what you make of it. Don’t be shy, talk to people, and it’ll make you both feel good.”
Photos courtesy of the Dunn family