Park Design & Planning: Celebrating History

Clear Creek Valley Park in Arvada, Colo.


People who were passing by Clear Creek Valley Park near Arvada, Colo., on March 23 may have wondered if they'd been sent back 150 years to the old Cherokee Trail, since they might have spied an old stagecoach tottering down the road. But in fact, it was the grand opening celebration for the new 81-acre park. The stagecoach, which was escorted into the park by the Adams County Sheriff's Posse, was carrying the board of directors of the Hyland Hills Park and Recreation District. They were greeted by a "mountain man" and 200 guests, as Native American drum music was played.

The park is located on the eastern border of the city of Arvada, in unincorporated Adams County—an area rich in history. The location is adjacent to the original Cherokee Trail, which was used by mountain men and early settlers, and which connected early communities from Colorado to Wyoming, according to the original 1861 National Survey.

The park was 15 years in the making and faced many challenges, which included acquiring that much contiguous land in an urban area. "We passed a successful $18 million bond issue in 2002, of which $4 million was earmarked for a major property acquisition in the south end of the district to build a long-overdue and much-needed park with recreational amenities," said Joann Cortez, park spokesperson. She explained how those funds were leveraged to secure additional grants and matching from the local county tax-based open space fund. The final acres were purchased in 2010, but funds were still needed to develop the park and purchase amenities. "That required the development of additional partnership endeavors that took years to cultivate," Cortez added.


The efforts and determination paid off, and the park has been a big success since opening day. There are a myriad of amenities and activities to enjoy, including several ponds—remnants of aggregate mining that had taken place on the property since the 1950s. A couple of these are catch-and-release fishing ponds, containing bass, crappie, catfish, sunfish and bluegill.

There are multi-use grass sports fields to be used for soccer, lacrosse and flag football. "They are also designed for community festivals and concerts—already featuring electric hook-ups and other power that might be required in the future," Cortez said. There are hard surface trails surrounding different areas of the park, and soft perimeter walking trails, which are partly constructed, with completion slated to take place during a phase-two construction plan. An outdoor fitness zone for adults features a variety of exercise machines strategically laid out in a circular design.

Two dozen community garden plots are located on a 122-year old historic farm, plus four handicapped-accessible raised beds—each with its own water source. They're available to rent for $35, and all are currently being used.

There are water features for when the temperature heats up, including farm tanks with hand pumps for interactive water-play that flows into a stream bed with an arched log bridge, check dams and stepping stones. A 70-foot zip line is a unique feature to the area and has proven popular with older children as well as adults.


Cortez related how many public meetings were held to ensure the end result would reflect what the community desired. "The input Hyland Hills received was invaluable and critical in determining the elements and character of the park."

She said there were many lively discussions about how to incorporate the historic themes into the playground visit experience. Ultimately, an agricultural theme was chosen to represent the 100-plus-year-old vegetable farms that became synonymous to the region. Historic crops were incorporated into the design, yielding a pascal celery slide, vining arch, carrot bench, pepper pod seats, talking flower tubes, farm playhouse, watering can playhouse, and a treehouse—all with whimsical themes such as curious animals peeking out of the tree itself.

The Hyland Hills District, which has dozens of parks in its repertoire, used a stable of consultants with park-planning and design experience, most of whom had a previous history with projects in the District's 60-plus-year existence. Project Manager Terry Barnhart said, "I postponed my retirement at age 68 to see this project through to completion. It's been difficult and challenging, requiring patience and vigilance. There were complicated land transactions over an 8-year period, permits and re-zoning required along with special permits from the Corps of Engineers and FEMA, all necessary and time-consuming. The local water regulations alone required official decrees from the Colorado Water Courts due to their complexity."

Back in 1859, gold was first struck a mile away from the park at Ralston Creek. And now, thanks to some tenacity and dedication, the constituents of the Hyland Hills Park and Recreation District feel like they've struck gold with their new Clear Creek Valley Park.



Hyland Hills Park and Recreation District: