People to Watch 2023: Scott Gilmore, Playground King

Scott Gilmore is sticking with the city.
Scott Gilmore is sticking with the city. Denver Parks & Recreation
Scott Gilmore, deputy executive director of Denver Parks & Recreation, started working in the department eleven years ago, during Michael Hancock’s first term as mayor. After Hancock leaves office, Gilmore will stay on, continuing to help manage what he considers the best parks department in the world.

“I love my job,” he says. “I would put our park system up against any park system on the planet.”

During his tenure, he’s worked to designate 1,311 acres of parkland, a distinction that protects land from being used for any purpose other than as a park, or from being sold without a vote of the city's residents. Just 600 acres of parkland were designated between 1956 and 2012, when Gilmore started the project. He’s worked to expand the park system, too, acquiring 1,173 urban acres and 550 mountain acres for Denver parks. While he’s heard complaints that the city is losing parkland, he says that isn't the case: The population has just grown.

And Gilmore hears a growing number of complaints from that population, ranging from concerns about dog behavior to clashes with pickleball players to qualms about how the city manages people experiencing homelessness in parks. He considers them all evidence that Denver cares about its parks, and that parks are a priority.

“Whoever the next mayor is, parks are important to the public,” he says. “We need to honor that, and we need to protect our parks, and we need to grow our park system — and we will continue to do that.”

Gilmore is likely to continue in his role regardless of who is elected Denver's next mayor: Last year, his position and that of fellow deputy executive director John Martinez were reclassified as Career Service Authority slots rather than mayoral appointments. Previously, the mayor had broader authority to fire either employee; under CSA, Gilmore's position is more protected.

He promises that no matter his job status, the department is operating with the people’s best interests at heart, making choices about park expansion based on equity and furthering the goal of getting everyone within a ten-minute walk or roll to a city park. So far, 85 percent of Denver's residents live in places that meet that criteria.

One project that reflects the department’s commitment to equity is its partnership with the Tall Bull Memorial Council, he says; under that arrangement, tribal members can collect ceremonial plants at any mountain park and conduct ceremonies at Daniels Park. Gilmore also championed an ordinance that directs the City of Denver to donate bison from its two herds to tribes across the nation rather than selling them at auction if the bison population gets too large.

Though he’s often been the public face of the department, Gilmore gives credit to those behind the scenes: “The amazing employees that I work with on a day-to-day basis across the department...wow! We get to do some of the most amazing work on the planet.”

Other people to watch in 2023:

"Jami Duffy, Leader of the Band"
"Kourtny Garrett, Downtown Defender"
"Daniel and Luis Ramirez, Hosts With the Most"
"Nga Vương-Sandoval, Welcome Committee"
"Michael Gadlin, Arts Ambassador"
"Penelope Wong, Top Shef"
"Cole Chandler, Speaker for the House"
"Michael Spencer: Anchor Man"
"Robert Kenney, Power Broker"
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Catie Cheshire is a staff writer at Westword. After getting her undergraduate degree at Regis University, she went to Arizona State University for a master's degree. She missed everything about Denver -- from the less-intense sun to the food, the scenery and even the bus system. Now she's reunited with Denver and writing news for Westword.
Contact: Catie Cheshire

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