Denver Government

Someone Keeps Breaking Slides at the Washington Park Playground

The Washington Park playground is down two slides.
The Washington Park playground is down two slides. Conor McCormick-Cavanagh
Since it opened in August 2018, the state-of-the-art Washington Park playground, built for $1.6 million, has been packed with kids filling the swings and climbing over logs and various wooden creations.

But now the tall structure with two towers leading to two slides has been cordoned off with orange hazard netting and cones, marked with a sign that reads, "Play Structure Closed Off Due to Vandalism."

"Just recently, not only was one slide, but both slides had been damaged," says Scott Gilmore, deputy executive director for Denver Parks and Recreation. "At that point, it’s unsafe for people to play on it, so we've got to fence it off."

While department staffers deal with vandalism at city facilities year-round, the Washington Park playground, and particularly its slides, has been a particular target.

"I don’t know what you do to prevent it, other than try to instill personal responsibility on people in the community — especially, I'm guessing, young folks thinking it’s a harmless prank," says Councilman Paul Kashmann, who represents the area.

In March 2021, someone vandalized and damaged the larger slide, and Parks and Rec removed it, then returned it to Washington Park in December. In April, the small slide was vandalized — it looked like someone had taken a sledgehammer to it — and Parks and Rec took it off for repairs.

Then on July 11, some warping developed on the big slide. "We believe when it was damaged the original time, some of the brackets were bent and they think that might be what's causing some of this warping. It might be a cause-and-effect from the original vandalism," Gilmore says.

With both slides out of commission, Parks and Rec blocked off the entire two-tower structure.

"She's mad because she wants to play on it," says visitor Angelo Cascio of his seven-year-old daughter, Talia. "It's the tallest area in the park and the only contained climbing area."
click to enlarge
Parks and Rec will need to replace the smaller slide.
Denver Parks and Recreation
But she won't be able to play on it anytime soon.  An $11,000 replacement for the smaller slide won't be shipped until mid-September.

"It’s not like going to Home Depot and buying a slide or a play set," says Gilmore. "The smaller slide, I believe, was a factory slide. But now that company doesn’t make that slide anymore. Now we’re having to figure out how to fit that space without a lot of modifications."

Supply-chain issues have also held up repairs. "We are not able to get parts and pieces. We’re cobbling together stuff to keep our parks department functioning well. We’ve got a great team that does that," Gilmore says.

But Cascio is skeptical. "I don't think there are as many supply-chain issues as the city would like to make it seem," he says. "That sounds like a catch-all."

Parks and Rec may be able to fix the new problems with the big slide for around $2,700 in-shop, Gilmore says. If so, the department will reopen the structure and just board up the entrance to the smaller slide until that replacement arrives. But if the big slide can't be repaired, its replacement might not come until October at the earliest.

"To have it put out of commission because of vandalism, it’s a drag. There are certainly other more dramatic issues we face as a community, but that’s one where it’s people’s tax dollars," Kashmann says.
Parks and Rec hopes to repair the warped, bigger slide.
Denver Parks and Recreation
Cindy Happel, a retired nurse who nannies two toddlers and takes them to the playground five days a week, says that her charges miss the small slide. "The big one is too big for them," Happel notes.

Happel has been coming to Washington Park for three decades; her two daughters, now 30 and 24, used the old playground on the other side of the park. This new one is much better, even "awesome," she says. But at night, there's not much lighting, which could be an invitation to vandalism. "It's just meanness," Happel suggests.

"People are like, 'Well, put cameras up.' I can't put cameras up everywhere," says Gilmore. "We have cameras up in parks where it’s more illegal activity, like drug-dealing, violence, assaults, things like that. I only have so many resources to put toward cameras and parks."

And he's getting fed up.

"That is really hurtful to the parks team. We put so much effort into working with the community to build this, and then my maintenance staff works so hard to take care of it and make sure it’s up to their standards," Gilmore concludes. "And then somebody comes along, and in fifteen to twenty minutes destroys all that work."
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Conor McCormick-Cavanagh is a staff writer at Westword, where he covers a range of beats, including local politics, immigration and homelessness. He previously worked as a journalist in Tunisia and loves to talk New York sports.