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New urban open lands to rise out of Denver's former airport

The site of Stapleton Airport, relocated further out of the city, is being redeveloped with an extensive trail system.

By Beth Conover
Stapleton Development Corporation

Map of  Colorado

The closing of Stapleton Airport has unlocked a new system of parks and open space of regional significance. Over a third of the total site— 1600 acres— will be developed by the Stapleton Development Corporation (SDC) during the coming decades as a system of active and passive recreation areas, open space, and wildlife habitat. Park and open space development at Stapleton will combine restoration of original landscapes with the creation of new ones to enhance ecological health and wildlife habitat at the former airport site and introduce new models for urban parks development in the Denver metro area.

photo of people on trail

Trails in the open space that is part of Denver;s Stapleton redevelopment area

 

Before there was an airport, the Stapleton site was a dryland farming area on the eastern plains, alternately referred to as "Rattlesnake Hollow" or "Sand Hills." New parks at Stapleton will respect this heritage, restoring the sand hill prairie landscape and high prairie stream corridors, and responding the site's current, urban context by linking parks to neighborhoods with trails and parkways and incorporating a surface storm water drainage swales, wetlands and basins.

The open space system will also unify eight mixed-use "urban villages." It will be organized along watershed drainages in Sand Creek (flowing west into the South Platte from east of the High Line Canal), Westerly Creek (flowing into Sand Creek from the south through Lowry) and a new "Prairie Creek" corridor flowing into Sand Creek from a 36-acre restored sand hills prairie area adjacent to the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge, and handle all drainage on the northern half of the site. Key early projects include:

The Sand Creek Corridor Regional Greenway. A partnership between the cities of Aurora, Denver and Commerce City and the Stapleton Development Corporation (SDC), the 12.-mile Sand Creek Greenway trail will link the South Platte and High Line Canal trails, completing a full riverside trail circuit around the city. The project is being supported by the Great Outdoors Colorado Fund (GOCO).

Bluff Lake urban wildlife education area

A former irrigation lake on the southeast corner of the site being developed as a public natural area (to open in 1997). The Friends of Bluff Lake have already hosted over 2000 early elementary-age school children in environmental education programs on site.

Urban Farm at Stapleton.

A partnership between Denver Urban Gardens and Embracing Horses will establish a community-supported agriculture farm and equestrian program for at-risk kids near Smith Road and Havana.

Greater Stapleton Youth Corps project

A pilot project in summer 1997 will employ up to 20 area youth in restoration activities both on site and in adjacent neighborhoods.

Private Landscaping. Standards

Private residential and commercial landscapes developed on site will also incorporate native, low-water and wildlife friendly plantings.

The development of the Stapleton park system will introduce a new type of park land to Denver. As a result, it will require innovative approaches to protecting, financing, building, and managing those lands for public benefit.

Beth Conover is Director of Parks and Environment at the Stapleton Development Corporation, 303-295-7900.

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