Over the last 30 years, skateparks have become a regular component of comprehensive parks and recreation systems throughout the nation. Upon completion of the final phase of construction in 2002, the Denver Skatepark was met with great excitement and fanfare. The Tony Hawk Gigantic Skatepark Tour held an exhibition at this skatepark where crowds to see the famous skateboarder were over 20-people deep.
Since opening, the Denver Skatepark has consistently found itself on top 10 lists throughout the skateboard sport and lifestyle communities, even now –nearly twenty years later. The skate options include both street and vertical/bowl (“vert”) features for varied experiences and provide options for children testing their limits for the first time to seasoned skateboarders looking for a challenge and fun.
The story of this iconic skatepark starts with a grassroots effort that gained traction with city officials and staff, received support and input from skate communities and experts, and was brought to fruition through innovative and highly technical design. It has since become a celebrated and recognized feature of Denver’s urban fabric.
In the 1990’s Denver youth were being ticketed for illegally skating in urban areas throughout the City. As a result, the City recognized the need for a downtown skatepark. For that effort, the City formed a task force comprised of more than 80 youth including many of those who had been reprimanded or ticketed for skating. Based on the work with that task force, the City decided to build the largest, most innovative, public, and importantly – free – skatepark in the country.
Skateparks are often located in “fringe” locations, where land is cheap or there aren’t residences nearby. The Denver skatepark is located in a prime downtown site near Coors Field and the South Platte River, one of the most important river corridors in the Denver Metro Area. It is located just 4 blocks from the 16th St. Mall where many skaters were ticketed for illegal skating. In addition to this central location, proximity to transit played an important role in the siting of the skatepark, allowing more skaters easier access to the park.
Throughout the design effort, the construction, and the management of the park since it’s opening, the goal of providing a safe, clean, and most of all – fun – skatepark has never wavered.
The Role of the Landscape Architect
The landscape architect facilitated an integrated public process that was rooted in working directly with the future users of the park – skaters themselves. The landscape architect saw their primary role as a conduit between the local skaters and the design/construction process. The landscape architect worked closely with the skating community from the initial conceptual design through construction.
The landscape architect has significant experience and expertise in the technical building of park elements, including concrete pavement and structures. The design of the skate features included technical elements such as a custom concrete mix design, steel coping/edging and extensive reinforcing. Additionally, the landscape architects specified 2 different colors of concrete to soften the visual impact of 60,000 sf of concrete.
The landscape architects were on site daily during construction to make sure the tolerances were being achieved and observing the placement of concrete to ensure the integrity of the design through the construction phase.
The Denver Skatepark is nestled in a string of parks along one of the most important waterways in the Denver area – the South Platte River in a vibrant area of the city, Lower Downtown or LoDo. The skatepark is situated between the City of Cuernavaca Park on the north side and Commons Park on the south side, both City and County of Denver parks. The passive parks on either side provide integrated ‘bookends’ for the hustle and bustle of the skatepark resulting in a complementary string of park space for residents. While the skatepark itself is highly active, a shade structure with seating area and a streetscape with mature shade trees and seating options provides areas of respite for weary skaters and places of enjoyment for those not skating.
The location of the skatepark in a highly developed urban city location is ideal for a variety of reasons. It is off a major downtown thoroughfare – 20th Ave, adjacent to the interstate, and accessible by a regional trail network and multiple transit options. This allows for the park to serve a highly diverse and regional population, not just those living nearby.
Skatepark features are highly technical in design and construction. The surface must be smooth and free of imperfections that could result in dangerous situations. Meeting skate-specific slopes and grades of all areas from pavement to bowls to stairs is imperative to ensure the ‘skatability’ of each feature and the park as a whole. These otherwise typical park and site features have different design criteria when being designed as part of a skatepark.
The landscape architects worked closely with the skating community throughout the design and construction process. They invited pro-caliber skaters to skate various elements as they were completed to provide feedback to the contractor. This feedback allowed the landscape architect and general contractor to work together to refine construction techniques to meet the exacting tolerances of the skating elements.
Environmental Sensitivity and Sustainability
Skateparks are, by nature, large expanses of impervious surfaces. To counteract this addition to the urban runoff, the landscape architect included vegetated swales, planting beds, and utilized pervious surfaces such as crusher fines around the outside of the skatepark. The design of the grading allows for surface flows to run into the planting beds where some of the stormwater can infiltrate, reducing the overall addition to the stormwater runoff. Drain inlets in skating features were sized to detain stormwater and slowly release it to the drainage system.
The Denver Skatepark is significant because of the love from the local skate population for the park, its gorgeous location as a threshold between a natural river corridor and the urban fabric of the downtown core, and its place in the local and national discourse of skateparks.
The local/user ownership for the Denver Skatepark has inspired local Facebook and Instagram pages that let skaters know of the snow conditions in the winter months, celebrate important dates such as International Women’s Day when they encouraged women and girls to come out to skate, or simply to inspire ownership and care for the space such as suggesting park clean-up efforts.
As only a truly diverse and supportive space can illustrate – users of this park are extremely varied in age, ethnicity, gender, and skill. According to Denver Parks data, there are anywhere from 50-300 skaters at the park at any given time of the day, making it the most heavily used park in Denver. These skaters vary in age from 4 to 60 and cross all cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds. The park also fulfills a need for today’s youth by providing a place for skaters to practice their skills and also as a “hangout” for many visitors that don’t even skate. The Denver Skatepark is a place where they are always welcome. This, however, does not make it less attractive to those outside of the ‘youth’ demographic. If anything, it becomes a space where youth can interact with other demographics, people they may not otherwise be inclined to engage.
This skatepark has been found on ‘best of the best’ or ‘top ten’ lists since it opened in 2002. Here is a sampling of the most recent lists that showcase the Denver Skatepark. The longevity and relevance of this skatepark can be seen in the high number of users throughout the day and the fact that this park is consistently featured on lists such as these below:
#2 of 13 Best Skateparks in the US You Need to Visit by Skateboarders HQ (undated)
#2 of 10 Best Skateparks in the US by Ride My Park (2019)
#3 of Best Skateparks in the US by Board Blazers (2019)
Listed in the 10 Best Skateparks in Colorado by Skate the States (2020)
Listed in Cities [that] Are Home to the Best (and Most Extreme) Skate Parks in the US. (2021)
Since opening nearly 20 years ago, the park design itself has not changed. The thorough design process that integrated skaters from the beginning and the highly detailed construction documents resulted in an extremely relevant and durable skatepark that has stood the test of time. As a truly iconic and landmark park does, the Denver Skatepark has been home to generations of athletes learning the sport, honing their skills, and passing their love onto younger generations. The size of this skatepark, the features offered – both street and vert features – and stunning urban context combine in harmony to create a timeless skatepark.
Documents and Media
Planning Docs (if applicable):