How Red Rocks Park Is Getting Bigger — at No Extra Cost to Taxpayers

What's better than adding 15 percent more land to Red Rocks Park?

Doing so at no extra cost to taxpayers.

Yes, it's true. On Wednesday, June 29, at a meeting of the Denver City Council infrastructure and culture committee, Denver Parks and Recreation will officially present a proposal to designate an additional 98 acres to the 640 acres that currently make up Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre. The announcement is being made as part of the 75th-anniversary celebration for this Colorado gem, which was recently named a National Historic Landmark.

The price tag? Zero — because the land was purchased years ago by the city's Division of Theatres and Arenas (now Arts & Venues) and is merely being transferred to Denver Parks and Recreation.

According to Scott Gilmore, Denver's deputy executive director of parks and planning, the roots of this success story can be traced to various working groups that met over the past year or so "to talk about Red Rocks and some of the projects that were ongoing — and to talk about possible local landmark designation. Being named a National Historic Landmark is a great honor, but the local landmark designation actually provides real protection. It protects it from development or being sold off anytime without a vote of the public.

"From both committees, members came to me and showed me a map of land that was adjacent to the park that [Theatres and Arenas] purchased in 2000," he continues. "There was some land up there adjacent to the highway that had been owned by a developer who was looking to sell it off, and [the city] was able to acquire it through the vision of Fabby Hillyard," former director of Denver's Division of Theatres and Arenas.

"I work very closely with Tad Bowman, who manages Red Rocks and the Denver Coliseum, and Kent Rice, the executive director of Arts & Venues, and we met on the site and walked around it," Gilmore says. "It's on a creek, Mount Vernon Creek, and is basically a riparian zone — kind of rocky but really beautiful. And afterward, we were able to say, 'Okay, we're going to take this land and make it parkland, so that it comes under the true management of Parks and Recreation."

No money changed hands in order to make this happen, Gilmore emphasizes.

"Arts & Venues technically could have said, 'We paid this much for it, and we should be reimbursed,'" he acknowledges. "But they see the benefit of us taking over this parcel. Our business is taking care of open space, and we can work on things Arts & Venues wouldn't have been able to do, like connecting trails. There's a parking lot right on Mount Vernon Creek, and that can become a little trailhead. We can build a trail that comes from there to the Trading Post or the Town of Morrison. It would be a great trail to add to the park system."

This parkland addition hasn't taken place in a vacuum.

"This administration has shown a real commitment to our mountain parks system and our overall parks system in creating additional parkland," he says. "I've been doing this for four and a half years, and we've designated over forty parcels. And once we designate this one, it will make more than 800 acres since 2013. That's remarkable, because between 1956 and 2012, the number of acres dedicated was 600."

Here's a graphic showing some of the other parcels acquired during recent years, not including the one for Red Rocks Park.

"Our Red Rocks addition is getting a little more play because it's Red Rocks," Gilmore allows, "but we're doing this all over the city.

"We've been working with DIA; we've opened up 200 acres of open space along the edge of the airport that's directly adjacent to Peña Boulevard and 56th Avenue, which is the largest parcel of open space in the city of Denver.

"So we're making some amazing additions to our parks system, and I'm just blessed to be able to be part of making this happen — part of making our parks system a world-class system."

After all, more Red Rocks is a very good thing.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts