The Denver Mountain Parks System Gets a New Look

Denver is famous for its city parks, but many locals – not to mention out-of-towners – don’t realize that this city also has 25 mountain parks totaling 14,000 acres.

Red Rocks is one of them. So is Winter Park, and the Mount Evans area, and Lookout Mountain Park (home to the Buffalo Bill Grave and Museum), and Genesee Park, where one of Denver’s two bison herds is occasionally visible from I-70. Yes, they are all Denver parks, along with many others that aren’t nearly as well-known. But aside from the "stars," the system is woefully underfunded, undermaintained and undervisited.

To anwer questions about why the city owns these parks, who uses them, whether Denver should continue to maintain and pay for them, and how they can be better utilized, the Denver Department of Parks and Recreation has just released the draft of a report on Denver Mountain Parks that has been in the works for eighteen months.

The department has also commissioned a new logo (pictured) -- one it hopes will help people better identify with these parks and note them as part of Denver. Created by nationally known graphic artist Michael Schwab, it has a 1930s-'40s WPA (Works Progress Administration) or CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) look to it, says Susan Baird, natural resources planner and project manager for the parks department.

The mountain parks system is historic -- and unusual, in that the land is so far from Denver itself. Created in 1912, the parks were used as a way to market the city to visitors. Today, however, tourists, as well as locals, often stay closer to home in the Jefferson County open space system, or head further into the mountains to get away from the crowds.

Still, up to 400,000 locals visit the parks every year, along with 2.5 million tourists. "There is untapped civic pride in Denver about the mountain parks," Baird says: People may not have heard of the parks, but everybody has been to one.

Some of the suggestions in the master plan include:

Increase the mountain parks’ annual share of Winter Park’s $2.2 million capital budget from $200,000 to $1 million; boost Red Rocks parking fees during the concert season to help maintain the park and the Bear Creek corridor Picnic Parks; work with the Denver Public Schools, the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, the Colorado Division of Wildlife, clubs and businesses to figure out ways to draw more kids to the parks; and design and distribute maps and brochures for the parks (which are almost completely nonexistent right now).

The parks department will take comments on its master plan here until September 19. – Jonathan Shikes

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Jonathan Shikes is a Denver native who writes about business and beer for Westword.
Contact: Jonathan Shikes

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