Denver gets a second new dog park near East High -- along with an urban garden

Students returning to East High School today can look forward to a lesson in community involvement over the next two years, courtesy of Denver's parks department.

By the end of September, the city plans to demolish the former Safeway/Church in the City building -- on land connected to East High's Esplanade -- where it hopes to one day build a new regional recreation center.

But that project could be five, ten, fifteen years away, depending on when the city is able to raise the money for construction. In the meantime, it will put together a combination dog park and urban garden -- combining two often-outspoken groups of people. And all of it over the protests of another outspoken group: the parents of East High students.

"There are some families who aren't happy about the dog park, but we think it will be a good use of that space," says parks spokeswoman Jill McGranahan.

The Dog Park at Josephine Gardens is slated to open on October 9, just a month after the new, and more permanent, Railyard Dog Park is scheduled to open in the Riverfront Park neighborhood between downtown and Highland. "There is a need for these, and we are opening two dog parks one month apart on opposite sides of town. That says we're helping meet the goals of our master plan and the needs of our community," McGranahan adds.

But gardeners will also use the Church in the City space on Colfax, and it's a spot that Denver Urban Gardens president Michael Buchenau is looking forward to getting his hands on -- and into.

Interest in urban gardens has increased dramatically in the past couple of years. The 25-year-old nonprofit will celebrate its 100th garden -- at Ruby Hill -- in late September. Buchenau says DUG already has fifteen more parks on the drawing board for 2011, and that number could double over the winter.

"It's a popular thing to think about right now, for all manner of reasons," he says. "Urban gardens are a way to connect with your neighbors, and they are very grounded in terms of getting your hands dirty. It's meaningful and purposeful...It's connected definitely to the urban food movement... and it's a way of getting healthier from a lot of different angles."

East High classes will be working in the garden this coming spring, and Buchenau hopes it could become a permanent part of the landscape, even after the rec center is finally built. "That is my wish," he says. "Gardens become very permanent places in the community's mind."