Parks & Open Space: The Story of the Land
From community gatherings and family reunions to regional festivals and sporting events, Stapleton parks are where neighbors come together.
And there are a lot of places to do it. Of Stapleton’s 4,700 acres, one-third will be parks and open space when the community is fully redeveloped in 10 to 15 years.
But what’s already here has quite a story.
“Stapleton’s open space system builds on Denver’s rich park legacy of traditional community parks and recreation facilities, parkways and greenbelts connecting neighborhoods, natural features defining the city and a visionary string of mountain parks,” according to the Green Book, Stapleton’s Development Plan. “The Stapleton open space system is a blend of the best of Denver’s past and present parks and a new attention to Denver’s lost landscapes and critical need for environmental stewardship.”
These principles have been carried out through a focus on:
- Gathering spaces throughout the community.
- Streets, parkways and green areas that extend from the neighborhoods surrounding Stapleton.
- A full park system that includes natural habitats.
“It all started with a vision, and Forest City (now Brookfield Properties) stuck to that vision,” said Laurel Raines of DIG Studio, an architecture and landscape firm involved in Stapleton’s park design. “The community’s vision of sustainability has been carried out through the parks. People want to live in these neighborhoods because of this neighborhood feeling that the open space creates.”
While Stapleton extends the City Beautiful movement that can be seen throughout Denver, open-space corridors and neighborhood parks set the community apart.
“Stapleton’s pocket parks are unique for Denver,” Raines said. “They create smaller focuses for an intimate group of homes versus serving as a neighborhood identifier like City Park or Wash Park.”
“The planning and their placement have allowed these smaller parks to work – it’s the visualization of a neighborhood lifestyle,” said Bill Vitek at DIG. “People treat these parks as their front yard.”
Stapleton’s Central Park West neighborhood added a different spin to this idea.
“There are pocket parks throughout Stapleton, but we introduced a new version of the parks in Central Park West,” said Kaia Nesbitt with AECOM, another firm involved in Stapleton’s park design. “We called them mews and they were an opportunity to run that line between public and private space. Inspired by the old, English landscape, these small parks were used to run horses behind homes.”
There are two mews that span the width of Central Park West.
We tried to give each mews something special. For example, one of them has a large, outdoor harvest table, which is one of my favorites,” Nesbitt said. “We’re hoping there may be outdoor, dinner parties or community events there … it’s an opportunity for gatherings to happen.”
Now, Stapleton is celebrating a decade of development, and the community’s parks have evolved in other ways.
Water preservation has become an even bigger focus in the landscapes, and neighborhood parks have developed their own personalities. One of Stapleton’s newest areas, Bluff Lake neighborhood, has parks to inspire the senses. There are elements of red to delight sight, sweet or edible landscapes for the sense of smell or taste, and grooved pavement and other enhancements to interact with sound or touch.
“What we’ve always tried to do is come up with something that is unique … something that is a neighborhood identifier,” Vitek said. “That’s what has been unique and fun about all of the parks we’ve designed.”
“It goes back to pushing the envelope to give the neighborhood its own personality,” said DIG’s Brandon Sobiech. Bluff Lake neighborhood even includes boulders and adaptable Aspen trees in its park designs.
And some of Stapleton’s first parks have helped to lead the way.
The park boulevard along 29th Avenue begins as you leave the East 29th Avenue Town Center and the neighborhoods surrounding Stapleton.
“The design idea of 29th Avenue was a progression of urban to more natural,” Raines said. “The landscape by the town center is more formal … as you progress, it becomes a meandering path with native plantings.”
That progression has even changed how Denver looks at parks.
“It has not only become a conversation in Stapleton, but it helped inspire the city to form a whole new group,” said Gretchen Wilson with DIG. “Because they have this knowledge in terms of management and maintenance for native areas, and because they’ve realized that the landscape cuts down on water costs, the city now has a group to help manage and cultivate more native areas.”
Stapleton’s land has even more surprises – from the 80 acres of adventure in the community’s Central Park to the advanced drainage system in Westerly Creek.
“Central Park has this very strong contrast between a green, functional area and a prairie aesthetic,” Raines said. There are defined paths, open landscapes to explore and even a million-dollar playground. “We wanted the playground to tell the story of Colorado’s weather patterns and ecosystems, but in a Dr. Seuss type of way.”
You can’t miss its winding shapes, purple surfaces and intricate, climbing apparatuses.
And Westerly Creek is its own marvel. It was an underground drainage system during the 60+ years that Stapleton served as an international airport.
“The fact that we could remove the pipes and let nature do those first waves of retaining and slowing down the water is why it has won so many awards … it’s such an amazing environment,” Vitek said.
The creek even sustained the “100-year flood” last year.
“The system acted and performed as it was designed to do and probably helped the water flow downstream,” he said.
Stapleton’s next, great neighborhood is underway!
Conservatory Green neighborhood will dramatically extend Stapleton’s green presence as parks and open space take shape next year. The neighborhood will also have close to 500 homes north of The Shops at Northfield Stapleton and near the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge and Dick’s Sporting Goods Park.
Nesbitt said the neighborhood’s green spaces will be guided by their new surroundings.
“The context of development south I-70 was about continuing the neighborhood street grid, whereas the areas around Conservatory Green neighborhood have more of a prairie feel. You will see the open space weaving all of the way through … there will be more green links with homes directly on the front of pocket parks,” she said. “And it’s all anchored between urban and prairie, with The Shops at Northfield Stapleton on one side and the Rocky Mountain Refuge on the other.”
The neighborhood will also integrate urban gardening into the public and private spaces as well as fresh amenities and new parks in the neighborhood alleys.
“From the Stapleton North Design Book, one thing that we had the intention to do was activate alleys,” Nesbitt said. “As a resident of Stapleton, our alleys are an extension of our backyard. In Conservatory Green neighborhood, there’s an interest in developing those alleys into something that’s more than just a place for cars.
“There are also pool designs on the way for what’s north of I-70, and there will be plenty of opportunities for year-round activities.”
And Conservatory Green neighborhood will feature a green and plaza for gatherings.
Raines said their design will be more contemporary with a fire pit, water feature and shade structure.
“I think the Conservatory Green is going to be my favorite park in Stapleton,” she said. “It’s not built yet, but it’s going to be full of energy.”