In 1907, Mayor Robert Speer said: “Denver can be made one of the ordinary cities of the country, or she can be made the Paris of America.” Wonderfully, Denver’s forebears saw the future and embraced it. By 2005, we seized upon that legacy, imagined a Great City, and built it.
In that Great City, we celebrate Denver’s parks, but attention is generally on our beautiful urban parks and parkways. Few know of Denver’s Mountain Park system, much less its scope or its importance. In fact, a significant part of Denver’s early vision was a Mountain Park system. As places of beauty and “refreshment,” these unique resources were important to Denver, aesthetically and economically.
Although many do visit these places, other than Red Rocks and Winter Park, little is known about them:
- Few know about the 1914 Olmsted system master plan. Few know about the Genesee elk and buffalo herds.
- Fewer know about the CCC camps or of Jacques Benedict’s stone shelters and buildings.
- Too few know that this 14,000+ acre system ranges over four counties, from 6,000 to more than 13,000 feet; or that it consists of a series of loop-and-spur scenic drives connecting more than forty named parks and unnamed parcels, listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Why we’re here:
The Issue: The Mountain Parks Need Our Help
These parks are like Denver’s children, but these are stepchildren out of a dark Victorian novel. Loved, perhaps, but ill-clothed, underfed. Comprehensive studies and strategies have been developed for Denver’s park system and intergovernmental relationships through the 2008 Master Plan, the 2002 Game Plan, the 2001 Recreation Management Plan, and the District-wide Historical and Cultural Facilities Assessment. We learned the parks have:
Whereas the Mountain Parks division oversees almost 22 square miles (or 71.8%) of Denver’s total parks and open space, the 2001 division funding was $760,000 or 1.4% of the Denver Parks & Rec. Budget. Used primarily for operations, maintenance, and repairs— NOT for upgrades or expansion— funding in 2005 was down to only about $685,000 or $48.93 per acre. This pales in comparison to the money spent by Jefferson County Open Space, Fort Collins, and other Front Range communities.
Degradation of the Mountain Park system continues despite outstanding efforts by the Mountain Parks District staff. Currently, an estimated $1.5 million is needed for immediate repairs and $2.5 million more for restoration of key structures, landscapes, and sites— as well as a pressing need for park rangers and timber, noxious weed, and natural resource management. As the population of the metropolitan area expands—as park system usage increases—these conditions will become exacerbated.
Lack of a Dedicated Advocate
After George Cranmer retired in 1947, and the Mountain Parks Commission was dissolved, little representation has existed to advocate for Denver’s Mountain Parks. They are, after all, in no one’s City Council district. Even though the 2003 Game Plan Survey shows “71 percent of Denverites visited one of the traditional mountain parks (excluding Red Rocks) at least once during the last year,” virtually all of the money and the efforts of current park advocates have been urban in focus.
No Dedicated Funding Source
Since the termination of the special mill levy in 1955, no dedicated mechanism has existed for consistent funding of Mountain Park-specific projects or needs.
What we do:
We believe these parks need help and respect. Buoyed by the encouragement of Mayor Hickenlooper in July 2004, the Denver Mountain Parks Foundation (DMPF), became a reality with its incorporation and establishment as a donor-advised fund under the Denver Foundation on October 26, 2004.
We created this non-profit entity to receive donations of funds, gifts, and bequests from individuals, corporations, and other foundations specifically for Denver Mountain Parks. This is in addition to the City’s existing funding, and is primarily for the purpose of Mountain Parks capital improvements including trails, historic structures, and associated forest, watershed, and open space components.
The DMPF endeavors to increase awareness of Denver’s Mountain Parks; aid in implementing the 2008 Master Plan (and, by extension, previous plans), and enable the 1914 Olmsted plan to be fully realized. Projects will still be prioritized and managed by professional city staff, but DMPF can help fulfill the mission of Denver Parks & Recreation to preserve, protect, and enhance these recreational resources through a public/private partnership while incorporating concerns of the Mayor, Council, and other interested citizens.
This is an opportune time to apply Denver’s tradition of leadership by continuing the legacy we have been given. Thank you in advance for being part of this effort.
For more information, you may contact W. Bart Berger, email wbb AT wbberger DOT com. Your knowledge, interest, and expertise is useful to make this meaningful.