River Run Park brought to life a half mile section of the South Platte River by providing enhanced recreation, neighborhood connectivity and river health while maintaining flood protection. The park corridor runs along the river through the cities of Englewood and Sheridan, Colorado and has become a favorite destination for the community.
The channelization of this segment of the river addressed the historic flood of 1965, but adversely impacted the habitat, stream ecology and aesthetics of the corridor. Over the years, drop structures in the channelized river began to fail, causing erosion, stream degradation and unsafe river recreation. The site ties in with a popular multi-use trail (Mary Carter Greenway) that extends 20 miles along the South Platte on the western side of the river.
Through a partnership of Arapahoe County, City of Englewood, City of Sheridan, South Suburban Parks and Recreation, Colorado Water Conservation Board and Mile High Flood District, improvements were made to the park between 2016 and 2019 making it an important and cherished community asset.
Purpose and Approach:
The overall project vision was to create a unique regional park that celebrates the river. To do that, the team had to meet multi-objective goals that include:
- Improving river health by reshaping the active river channel to better replicate a natural stream system. By improving ecological functions and building resiliency into the system, the project built new wetland and riparian habitat, improved sediment transport, and enhanced aquatic organism movement and water quality.
- Maintaining 100-year flood conveyance
- Increasing trail connectivity and safety along the Mary Carter Greenway, alleviating heavy pedestrian and bicycle traffic. New hard and soft trail surfacing and grade separated trail crossings improves access throughout the corridor and to the river’s edge.
- Providing a unique regional multi-user recreational experience. The project reconstructed two large, existing drop structures and replaced them with six lower drop structures that include recreational features from wave shapers for surfing and kayaks to water shoots for kids play. Water users of all types, and people of all ages and abilities will have opportunity to interact with water. Because this is such a unique feature, terraced seating, access paths and trailhead facilities were designed to accommodate crowds of spectators who enjoy watching the surfing activity. This is a regional destination with broad appeal for community gatherings that engages users with the river, greenway trail and trailhead facilities.
The Landscape Architect played a significant role in the planning and design of River Run Park, working with project team, partners, municipalities, agencies and adjacent land owners to develop a master plan that met community goals and aspirations. The Landscape Architect participated in numerous public outreach events and one-on-one meetings with adjacent property owners to gather input, solidify support and inspire excitement for the project. The Landscape Architect designed the interface between the instream river improvements and the upland open space, including landscape restoration, a mile of a multi-use trail, and extensive trailhead facilities. The trailhead included parking improvements, trail connections, a nature inspired playground with native plant species, restroom, both small and large picnic shelters for gatherings, and a rain garden to treat stormwater from the adjacent parking lot. All of the improvements are universally accessible to accommodate users of all ages and abilities.
The engineer led design efforts for in-stream improvements which included bank stabilization, reconstructing a low flow river channel, storm drainage, grade control drop structures, water play areas and an adjustable “surf wave”. The Landscape Architect made recommendations for river aesthetics including materials, boulder placement and revegetation. The Landscape Architect worked closely with the engineering team to prepare bid documents and oversee construction through the completion of the project.
Project partners included Arapahoe County, City of Englewood, City of Sheridan, South Suburban Parks and Recreation, Colorado Water Conservation Board, Mile High Flood District who were all instrumental in leveraging project funding, approvals, permitting and support throughout the design and construction process.
One of the goals of the project was to restore the river to a more natural condition, accommodating flood control, providing improved habitat and river health. The river channel and banks were regraded to provide a low flow channel and benches to reestablish a more resilient riparian ecosystem with improved fish habitat and safe passage for river recreation. As the site was re-graded, concrete debris, metal and even parts of cars that were deposited along the river during the flood of 1965, were removed as part of the stream restoration.
Adjacent Land Uses
The land uses along both side of the river along this corridor are very industrial. These include large recycle plants for concrete, asphalt and metal. There are also a number of auto salvage yards near the east side of the river. This project embraced the industrial character of the surroundings. Working with the business owners of each plant, we developed three interpretive rest areas along the greenway trail to tell the story of each recycle plant and the role they play in the community. The Landscape Architect designed interpretive signage and gabion baskets filled with recycled materials and salvaged auto parts to form rest areas with seating that overlooks the restored river. Upland, drought tolerant trees and shrubs were planted along the greenway trail to provide shade, screening and habitat.
Water Treatment Facility Barrier
The existing Mary Carter Greenway trail follows the west side of the river. This regional greenway is highly used and there was a desire to continue an east side trail along the project corridor to alleviate congestion for bicycles and pedestrians, create safe grade separated crossings, and provide additional trail connectivity to the community. One of the barriers preventing the extension of the trail was an existing water treatment facility with an intake structure along the east side of the river. There were concerns about safety, security and physical space to extend the trail through the facility. Through an extensive planning process including detailed plans, sections and graphics to illustrate design ideas, we were able to address concerns of the treatment facility managers and created a design that includes both a new east side trail and improved water intake.
Adjustable Surf Wave
There were six new drop structures constructed as part of this project including a high-performance surf wave. The wave shaper is a unique feature for more skilled surfers that can be adjusted by a set of three plates underneath the water that allow the wave to be dialed for particular flows. Ideal surfing and kayaking occurs at 100 cfs and above. Other nearby drops are more suitable for beginners and shallow areas provide water play for the entire family.
Environmental Sensitivity and Sustainability:
A rain garden was designed to reduce excess sediment, nutrients and metals from the adjacent parking facilities. Infiltration and biological uptake treats and reduces stormwater runoff before reaching the South Platte River near the new trailhead, providing a cleaner and healthier environment.
The one-mile corridor required extensive work to reestablish an upland landscape. Significant soil preparation including imported topsoil and amendments were required to establish native grasses. A bubbler irrigation system was designed to provide water to proposed native trees and shrubs along the trail, providing shade, habitat and a visual aesthetic to what was once a barren landscape.
The existing channelized river was regraded to create a low flow stream which improved sediment transport, fish habitat, recreation and river health. Benches were created along the channel to support wetland and riparian grasses that help reestablish the river character. Storm water conveyance is a primary goal for the project, so woody trees and shrubs could not be planted below the 100-year flood level.
Where there is water, there are competing priorities. The Landscape Architect’s role along rivers is often one of facilitation, balancing the possibilities of development with the social, funding and ecological environments of each community. One area of agreement is the changing relationship between people and their rivers – one that reintegrates them into the core functions of our lives as catalysts for community and connection. As a shift has occurred in river management practices from one of large-scale water management schemes, to softer more naturalized conditions, so too has the need for technical expertise to ensure the safety, sustainability, activation, and ultimate success of these new places. River Run brings together several separately planned projects by multiple agencies along the one-mile reach of the river. The combined river park project leveraged groundwork laid by numerous public agencies who all had a stake in its outcome. By collaborating at a local and regional level, it increased public funds and grant opportunities, met each entities own objectives, while delivering a regional urban river park attraction like no other.
- Blue Rabitbrush
- Gro Low Sumac
- Native Ninebark
- Swamp White Oak
- Thornless Hawthorn
- Big Bluestem
- Green Needlegrass
- Prairie Cordgrass
- Nebraska Sedge
- Baltic Rush
- Wooly Sedge
Documents and Media
Planning Docs (if applicable):