City Park getting an $8 million play area, restored historic waterway

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Denver’s largest urban park will get a little more fun in 2024.

The city breaks ground Tuesday on a $7.9 million, 4-acre outdoor play and education area that restores native plants and a historic waterway to City Park. Set in the southwest corner of the Denver Museum of Nature & Science complex, the Nature Play project will host a 20-foot sculpture of a bighorn sheep, swings, slides and family-friendly seating and lounging areas.

Nature Play was designed after more than five years of input from thousands of community members, according to the museum, and should be complete in late 2024.

When it was created in 1882, 320-acre park City Park was a “treeless wasteland,” according to the museum, but was eventually filled in with vegetation and trees that were watered by a canal called City Ditch. The canal, which was dug by hand between 1865 and 1867, was a winding, 27-mile-long waterway that served farms outside the city center (where Confluence Park is now).

A design rendering shows the overhead view of the new, 4-acre Nature Play project at Denver's City Park, which will restore a historic waterway through the park's southeast area. (Provided by Denver Museum of Nature & Science)
A design rendering shows the overhead view of the new, 4-acre Nature Play project at Denver’s City Park, which will restore a historic waterway through the park’s southeast area. (Provided by Denver Museum of Nature & Science)

Parts of City Ditch, located in the southeast area of the park, still remain and feed into various Denver parks, including Washington Park. But the City Park portion began disappearing in the 1930s after being filled in or covered up for underground use. City Ditch was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.

The restoration will highlight “the diversity of Colorado’s ecosystems through natural features and play experiences,” officials wrote in a statement.

Nature Play also will add new pathways, “embedded sculptural play elements that feature animals found throughout Colorado’s diverse ecosystem,” and native plants that support pollinators and represent local ecosystems. A 20-foot-tall Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep sculpture/playground will burnish City Park’s refreshed play areas, including a curved wooden tower and undulating sculptures on the west side of the park.

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