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Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story contained the wrong year for the Ralston Creek gold find.
Before they could even get the ribbon strung up to cut, area residents were using Clear Creek Valley Park.“I can tell you the community was literally so excited to start using the park that no sooner had the banners been put up that the park is open that cars starting filing in,” said Joann Cortez, communications director for Hyland Hills Park and Recreation District. “We were just trying to get the initial kickoff event going and people were just chomping at the bit to start.”About 200 people attended the March 23 ribbon-cutting ceremony for the district’s 81-acre park, Cortez said.The park is nearly a decade and a half in the making, as the district went through land acquisition, grant writing, FEMA permits, storm water permits and a slew of other regulatory steps.It’s located at the southern edge of the Hyland Hills district at 58th and Tennyson streets — on the eastern border of the Arvada city limits, a mile south of where Westminster and Denver meet.The district bought the first 44 acres in December 2002 with money from a May 2002 $18 million bond issue. The district bought the final acres in 2010.“There’s basically eight years of land acquisition,” said Terry Barnhart, planner for the district and project manager for Clear Creek Valley Park.Getting that much contiguous land in an urban area was an undertaking, Barnhart said. “I like to explain it as pulling a rabbit out of a hat.”It’s what residents wanted, according to a 2002 master plan for the area, Barnhardt said, so the district started looking at the southern portion of its area for a park.The district used $4 million from the bond issue as seed money to provide matching funds required by grants to buy land. They targeted areas in a floodplain and farms owned by people past retirement. In fact, the district is only the third owner for some parcels of land. A settler claimed an area of land that was bought by the Grippa family in 1896, who farmed on the land for four generations, according to Cortez. The garden in the park carries the Grippa name.“This whole area is historically rich,” Barnhart said.The original Cherokee Trail, he said, is adjacent to the park and the first gold was struck a mile away at Ralston Creek in 1850.PartnershipsDevelopment of the park didn’t come without a few struggles. While the bond issue funds helped cover the cost of buying the land, it didn’t cover amenities. The project seemed at a standstill until Wanco Inc., a neighboring company that manufactures traffic safety equipment, wanted to expand and add jobs. The company was landlocked, surrounded by the acres purchased by the district.The company and the district settled on a deal: Wanco paid $400,000 for 5 acres of district land. That was added to $500,000 from the city of Arvada and another $350,000 donation on top of the land sale price from Wanco. That gave the district money to start building amenities.Because the district used funds from Adams County Open Spaces to buy the land, it couldn’t sell the land without approval from the Adams County Commission and had to get special permission — after public input — to keep the money from the land sale.“And, importantly, we had the buy-in of these key partners and in the case of Wanco, they have over 300 employees at that site and so now their employees have a place to go after work or before work,” Cortez said.Cortez and Barnhart touted partnerships as a key piece in developing the park. A plaque at the park notes major partners as the Adams County Commission, Adams County Open Space Advisory Board, city of Arvada and Wanco.Community Partners listed include the Hyland Hills taxpayers, city of Westminster, Butterfly Pavilion, Colorado Garden Foundation, Urban Drainage and Flood Control District, Berkeley Water and Sanitation District, Westminster Public Schools and Regis University students.In total, more than $5 million was spent on the project.AmenitiesA series of public meetings drawing dozens of people helped shape the park. Barnhart said the district presented ideas to the public for feedback and heard some suggestions — like an amphitheater — to create the amenities.“We asked the public what they wanted,” Barnhart said.The park includes a playground, giving a nod to the agricultural history, with red bell pepper chairs, a carrot bench and celery slide.“The playground itself has many unique characteristics,” Cortez said.The park also has a 24-plot community garden, multi-use sports fields, trails, a zip line, picnic shelters, a sandpit and two catch-and-release fishing ponds.Future growthBarnhart said plans call for expanding again to the east. More grants are pending for that work, he said. That new area could bring in additional parking.“It’s hard to imagine that there was nothing there,” Cortez said. “So now this entire area has been brought to life. It’s like we breathed life into this industrial arena … the entire community can use it.”
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