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River Vision Realized

The new water rights will foster better wildlife habitat.

Pasquinel's landing park now features a channel that's more akin to the river's natural form.

Grant-Frontier Park now features three terraces.

The playground at Grant-Frontier Park takes cues from its history as the site of Montana city, the first gold-rush settlement in the area.

The redesign of Grant-Frontier Park preserved a century-old cottonwood tree.

In Athmar Park, Johnson-Habitat Park was finished in 2015.

A rendering of the upgraded Shoemaker Plaza in Confluence Park.

The multi-year project to improve parks and habitat on the South Platte River is hitting its final weeks. The upgraded parks on the south side of Denver are matched by ambitious projects in the works for Confluence Park, RiNo, and Globeville.
In 1965, the South Platte River flooded Denver when a nearby storm unleashed more than a foot of rainfall in a few hours. The disaster had a silver lining: It emptied 100 years of garbage dumped in the water into the streets of and sparked a movement to clean the river up.
 
A half-century later, the movement has picked up steam. Over $35 million has been invested in projects along the river in the past five years, most of them part of River Vision.
 
Construction on the final part of the River Vision project, Grant-Frontier Park, just south of Evans Avenue on the east side of the river, is scheduled to be finished before the end of the year. The new park includes three terraces at the level of two, 10-, and 100-year floodplains, a rerouted bike trail, and a playground that commemorates the park's claim to fame as the site of Montana City, the first settlement in the Denver area when established in 1858.
 
The redesign of Grant-Frontier Park preserved a century-old cottonwood tree."Within the completion of Grant-Frontier, the initial phase of River Vision will be complete," says Michael Bouchard, and River Vision project manager and assistant director of design and construction at Denver Parks and Recreation. "We're going to do a bigger ribbon cutting of River Vision in the spring."
 
Grant-Frontier follows the 2015 completion of Johnson Habitat Park, west of the river in the Athmar Park neighborhood. It now features a playground and a campground and other facilities for an "eco-based summer camp" and other programming from the South Platte River Environmental Education (SPREE).
 
Just north of Evans, Pasquinel's Landing Park was completed in early 2016. "Pasquinel's is more of a passive park," says Bouchard. "It's got less recreation than Grant-Frontier."
 
There's a new fitness zone and a small nature-inspired playground in the works scheduled for completion by early 2017.
 
Ecological elevation
 
But the park improvements are part of a bigger plan that involved river restoration. Flood-control projects channelized the South Platte after the 1965 deluge.
 
"Both Pasquinel's Landing and Grant-Frontier took a similar approach," explains Bouchard. "We're carving out a bowl and pushing the trail out. We're creating a secondary channel and putting the river into the park -- literally. . . . About 1,000 dump trucks of dirt have been taken out. That's significant."
 
Another key to a healthier river: new water rights recently acquired by Denver Water and Colorado Parks & Wildlife with the support of The Greenway Foundation strictly for environmental purposes. The 2,100 acre-feet will be released during periods of low flow to prevent the river from going seasonally dry.
 
The new water rights will foster better wildlife habitat."It secures additional reservoir water from Chatfield," says Bouchard. "It guarantees water for the ecology of the whole corridor."
 
The additional water will allow for deeper, cooler pools where macro- and micro-invertebrates thrive, providing a food source for fish and other animals.
 
"Temperature is a rough guide to the ecological health," says Bouchard. "It's really one of those things that will lift the up the health of the whole ecosystem."
 
"A higher water level is going to bring down the percentages of E. coli and other things we can track," he adds. "We hope to see continued improvement in [water quality]."
 
Coming attractions
 
But the culmination isn't an endpoint for riparian restoration and recreation. Bouchard lays out the past and future timeline: "It started with Sun Valley, then we did River Vision, we've got Confluence [Park] back online and we're now designing a new river park in RiNo."
A rendering of the upgraded Shoemaker Plaza in Confluence Park.
After an 18-month delay, the Confluence Park project is "finally back underway," says Bouchard. "It would have finished last spring -- we got delayed 18 months."
 
The last, a roughly four-acre park adjacent to Great Divide Brewing Company's facility on Brighton Boulevard, is slated for groundbreaking in mid-2017. A pair of existing buildings on the property for artists’ studios or a makerspace. "It's a new park in a rapidly growing area in Denver," says Bouchard. "Right now, it's just called RiNo Park. It kind of reflects the next generation where these parks are going to go."
 
Next up is a redesign of Globeville Landing on the north side of the city. "It's really time to reimagine that park as more of an amenity for the community," says Bouchard.

Read more articles by Eric Peterson.

Eric is a Denver-based tech writer and guidebook wiz. Contact him here.
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