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Photos: Grand opening of East 13th Avenue and Xenia Street park and gardens

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Around a beautiful garden, playground equipment and a turf soccer field -- and under the shade provided by a large cottonwood tree -- members of the diverse East Colfax community joined together in a grand opening celebration for a new city park on East 13th Avenue and Xenia Street this past weekend.

Learn more about the festivities and see photos below.

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, who spoke at the opening ceremony, said, "This day and this park are inspiring stories of overcoming difficulties." The spirit of the community could be seen gathered around the cottonwood tree, he added. "Let this tree stand as a symbol of unity, collaboration and new freedom in America."

"New freedom" takes on multiple meanings for the 13th and Xenia community, whose residents include many immigrants or refugees from Somalia, Burma, Afghanistan, Nepal and numerous other countries. It's the key part of the community's recommended name for the space: New Freedom Park, a moniker that will first be presented to the city's parks board in July along with a petition featuring 300 signatures, and then to Denver City Council. But the phrase also speaks to a developing sense of civic engagement for many involved in the design process of the park.

Saturday's ceremony marked the culmination of a partnership between Denver Parks and Recreation and the Trust for Public Land, which helped build the park from the ground up by uniting funders, community leaders, citizens and park professionals. Speaking at Saturday's grand opening ceremony, Happy Haynes, chair of the TPL's Colorado Advisory Board and prominent longtime Denver civic leader, said that the Trust for Public Land is about conserving land and parks for people. Hancock added that "we owe a huge debt of gratitude to many people," especially the TPL. "Their efforts are the main reason we are celebrating here today," he said.

When TPL became involved with the project, neighborhood residents were already dragging a hose across the street to water a garden they'd created, and kids were playing soccer after school in the pebble- and glass-strewn dirt lot, said TPL's Colorado and Southwest Director, Tim Wohlgenant.

"This community was demonstrating their need for a park," noted project manager Wade Shelton.

TPL created a community design process that began in January 2010, Shelton said. After construction drawings were completed, the organization worked directly with the city to build the park. Former Denver Mayor Bill Vidal attended the park's groundbreaking ceremony in late June 2011.

Shelton, whom Wohlgenant described as TPL's "man on the ground," said he was inspired by the resilience of the immigrants and refugees he met while working on the project. "You can't even process what these folks have been through," he said, describing the project as the most rewarding experience of his professional career. In his words, "Their garden is the difference between them having fresh veggies or going to a dollar market."

Wohlgenant pointed out that four languages were spoken during community planning meetings -- not one of which was Spanish. Once a vacant lot, the park bisected by Westerly Creek has been transformed into a playground, community garden, youth-sized soccer field and an active, open community space.

"It is a beautiful place now," eight-year area resident Carlos Sanchez while surrounded by soccer-playing youth.

"We consider this [park] our flagship," Wohlgenant said. And although the 13th and Xenia park was the first that TPL has built in Colorado, he stressed that the organization has a vision going forward to work on more parks.

More photos of the 13th and Xenia park grand opening day continue on the next page.

Photos of the 13th and Xenia park grand opening day continue on the next page.

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