Just when you thought Boulder couldn’t get any greener, Boulder Parks and Recreation is planning to do just that.
By combining forces with University of Colorado Boulder’s environmental design program, the city is working to bring nature even closer to home by developing more natural, community-based parks that are more accessible to children, seniors and everyone in between. The department is planning to incorporate natural features such as creeks, dry river beds and drainage swales into the new design plans and allowing nature to shape the rest of the park.
Although Boulder boasts tens of thousands of acres of natural, open space, Jeff Dillon, the parks and planning superintendent at Boulder Parks and Recreation, says he believes there is still room for improvement in Boulder’s urban parks.
“[Open space parks] are very accessible, and Boulder is an extremely active community, and I think they have this strong love of open space,” Dillon says. “But one of the challenges is if you have a 4- or 5-year-old, you certainly don’t just let them run off into open space without some supervision. Our job is to kind of give that first opportunity. It’s close to home. It’s your neighborhood park; it feels safe.”
The question Dillon asks is, “how do you bring nature back into the urban park system?”
The department’s current project is the Mesa Memorial Park in South Boulder. The community members near the park, which currently stands as a vacant lot, have been working with Boulder Parks and Recreation since 2008 to transform the area into something the community can enjoy. Through a series of public meetings, residents have voiced requests for everything from a rock climbing wall and tunnels to a small amphitheater for live music and events. One person even asked for a go-kart track.
The trick is to find the balance between what the residents want and what the city can afford. That’s where the community really becomes part of the urban development process.
While a large chunk of the money — about 75 percent of the funds needed for the park project — comes from the city, the Mesa community members will have to dig deep to really make the park their own. The other 25 percent will need to come from local businesses, grants and volunteers. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, Dillon points out. Through active engagement from the community members, whose Boy and Girl Scouts have already offered to lend a hand, Dillon says he hopes the residents will experience what he calls “sweat equity ownership,” which creates a sense of pride and the feeling that they have earned the park and therefore really own it.
After the latest round of meetings between Boulder Parks and Recreation and the community members in early May, the park project is finally picking up steam as the park employees take everything they heard from the community and put together the final design. With the help of two CU environmental design students — seniors Matthew Greenwald and Zack Kiernan — the park designers are not only taking the requests and layout of the park into consideration, but also the value of every park feature.
Even something as simple as a climbing wall takes a lot of strategic planning.
“What are the play values of that climbing wall?” Dillon ponders aloud. He stresses the importance of keeping kids challenged while remaining safe. Dillon asks, “How do you design that climbing wall so that a 4- or 5-year-old can climb up so high — but then it’s too high to climb further until they’re stronger — but it also might be challenging for a 7-, 8-, 9-year-old? Children’s play is really their work. That’s how they develop the skills necessary to become adults.”
Boulder Parks and Recreation is taking feedback on how residents feel about their parks and planning other future projects. One of the biggest on that list is the Civic Center area, located between Arapahoe and Canyon, spanning from 9th to 17th Street, because of its close proximity to schools, city buildings, a library and a farmers’ market. The natural play area along Boulder Creek also allows the park planners plenty of opportunities to engage people of all ages in nature.
“The premise is to introduce more nature play elements into the park spaces around the city and possibly even outside the park spaces later on,” Greenwald explains.
To get your voice heard and try to direct Parks and Recreation in your neighborhood, Dillon advises community members to attend their monthly meetings or visit the department’s website to send in suggestions and requests. The department also plans to roll out “Park Report Cards,” which Boulder residents can use to rate the quality of their local parks.
But remember, parks don’t just spring out of thin air. It takes a whole community to build a park.