Denver Direct: Statement by Advocates for Denver’s Parks

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Statement by Advocates for Denver’s Parks

At the November 8, 2012 meeting of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, Denver Department of Parks and Recreation (DDPR) Manager Lauri Dannemiller brought forward a request from the Denver Public Schools that 9 acres of the Hentzell Park Natural Area be “de-designated”. The proposed de-designation would allow DPS to use the land as a site, along with 2.5 acres of land adjacent to the site that is owned by the City, for a pre-school/elementary school complex. In exchange, a building at 1330 Fox Street, now owned by the Denver Public Schools and used for DPS programs, will house the city’s new Domestic Violence Center, a mayoral priority. DDPR would lose parkland as a result of this arrangement.
We do not take a position on the need for a new school in southeast Denver or on the location of a home for the City’s Domestic Violence Center. We do assert, however, that the loss of land that has been designated as a Natural Area in order to accomplish these goals sets an unacceptable precedent that could erode the quality and size of Denver’s park system.
The designated Natural Area is part of 71 acres of undeveloped parkland in southeast Denver along Cherry Creek called the Paul A. Hentzell Park.1 The parkland north of the creek has “some of the last remnants of native prairie vegetation in the City”; two areas contain a diverse collection of uncommon grasses and wildflowers; and a third has diverse prairie vegetation (see Hentzell Park Management Plan). The floodplain area adjacent to Cherry Creek contains cottonwoods and the areas away from the creek contain native and non-native species. The park department’s own Management Plan for Hentzell called for designation of some of this land as a Natural Area. The guiding vision was that it would be “restored as a showy example of the sandhills and riparian vegetation that once existed in the area” (p. 25). In 2007, the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board recommended, and the DDPR Manager approved, formal designation of the Natural Area.

The controversy that has arisen over the de-designation of part of the Hentzell Park Natural Area has unearthed serious problems with the way in which Denver parkland is classified and protected. These problems include:
1. It is within the authority of the DDPR Manager to de-designate Natural Areas. We argue that all parkland managed by the DDPR including Natural Areas, Parks, and Open Spaces, for example, is held in the public trust. It is not land to be used (or sold) for purposes removed from conservation, preservation, and recreation. Indeed, the City Charter provides the model (see Part 4, Section 2.4.5): It explicitly prohibits the sale or leasing of land designated as a park by ordinance without approval by a majority of registered voters. Therefore, the de-designation of 9 acres of the Hentzell Park Natural Area violates the spirit of the City Charter.
2. A significant minority of what the DDPR labels as parks and the citizens of Denver have come to consider as parks, “parks” such as Stapleton or Ruby Hill, for example, have never been designated by ordinance as such. Therefore, these undesignated “parks” are at some risk of being used for whatever purpose a particular administration considers appropriate at the moment. This poses a threat to our current and future park system.
3. We need more not less land to achieve the goals of the Denver Department of Parks and Recreation stated mission (see the DDPR Game Plan). The population of Denver, now estimated to be 620,000, is expected to rise to 754,000 by 2030. In light of the projected increase in population and a likely increase in the density of population in urban areas, it is critical that we convert more land than we have at present to parkland of all types.
In light of these issues and threats to the Denver Department of Parks and Recreation System posed by the precedent that would be set by the proposed de-designation of 9 acres of the Hentzell Park Natural Area, we call on the Mayor and the City Council to:
1. Bring the issue of de-designation of the Hentzell Park Natural Area to a vote of the people;
2. Mandate the immediate designation of undesignated (and legally eligible) parkland, including Natural Areas and Parks; and
3. Revise the relevant rules and regulations so that designated Natural Areas cannot be sold or leased or de-designated, without a vote of the people.
We ask that citizens concerned with maintaining our parkland and enhancing our park system, before December 13, 2012:
1. Email comments to DDPR Manager [email protected]; Mayor Michael Hancock [email protected]; or[email protected]; or mail them to DDPR Manager, Lauri Dannemiller, 201 W. Colfax Ave., Dept. 601, Denver, CO 80202;
2. Email comments to the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board members (See List 1 below) who will be voting on the de-designation of 9 acres of Hentzell Park Natural Area (in subject line: [email protected]) on Dec. 13, 2012;
3. Attend the Denver Parks and Recreation Advisory Board public meeting December 13, 2012 at the Wellington Web Municipal Building, 201 W. Colfax Ave., 4th Floor, Room 4.F.6 at 5:30 pm. While there will not be a public hearing at this meeting, there will be 15 minutes of time for public comment prior to the beginning of the meeting. After this meeting, a decision will be made as to the de-designation of Hentzell Natural Area; and
4. Direct comments to the Denver City Council ( (See List 2 below).
Advocates for Denver’s Parks
List 1: Members of the Department of Parks and Recreation Advisory Board.
Noel Copeland [email protected] (District 1)
Bernie Sharp [email protected] (District 2)
Derek Sandos [email protected] (District 3)
Anne Green [email protected] (District 4)
Leslie Holben Twarogowski [email protected] (District 5)
May McCoin [email protected] (District 6)
Conor Hollis [email protected] (District 7)
Keith Pryor [email protected] (District 8)
Jay April [email protected] (District 9)
Mary Ewing [email protected] (District 10)
James R. Coleman [email protected] (District 11)
Darrell Watson [email protected] (At-large)
Shane Christopher Wright [email protected] (At-large)
Marcus Pachner [email protected] (Mayor)
Jason Robinson [email protected] (Mayor)
Dan Smink [email protected] (Mayor)
James Allen [email protected] (DPS)
List 2: Members of City Council
(This council must approve ultimately the transfer of this land to Denver Public Schools which is a legal entity separate from the City and County of Denver.)
Susan Shepherd, District 1: [email protected]
Jeanne Faatz District 2: [email protected]
Paul Lopen, District 3: [email protected]
Peggy Lehmann, District 4: [email protected]
Mary Beth Susman (President), District 5: [email protected]
Charles Brown, District 6: [email protected]
Chris Nevitt, District 7: [email protected]
Albus Brooks, District 8: [email protected]
Judy Montero, District 9: [email protected]
Jeanne Robb, District 10: [email protected]
Christopher Herndon, District 11: [email protected]
Robin Kniech, Councilwoman-At-Large: [email protected]
Deborah Ortega, Councilwoman-At-Large: [email protected]
Paul A. Hentzell Park is comprised of land that has been designated as a park and land that has been designated as a Natural Area. The designated Natural Area that the City is seeking to de-designate is not part of the land that has also been designated as a park. It is important to note, however, that DDPR documents such as the Hentzell Management Plan refer to the entire area as a park, and citizens have long considered the area as such.
Sources of Information:
Denver City Charter, Section A4.4-1
Denver Department of Parks and Recreation Game Plan (
Denver Parks and Recreation Overview of Proposed Hentzell Park Natural Area De-Designation ( to Hentzell Park)
Denver Parks and Recreation webpage: Frequently Asked Question (about Henztell Natural Area)
Hentzell Park Management Plan (
Rules and Regulations Governing Natural Areas (Rocky Mountain News, February 23, 2001)
Mayor Hancock Delivers First State of the City Address (
Save Hentzell Park website (
Paul A. Hentzell Park School Site Discussion (
Revised Municipal Code, Chapter 39 (Parks and Recreation)