Prairie Vista Park

Paradigm shifts within urban and sub-urban city parks and open spaces.

Written by Trey Shelton

In the middle of Greenwood Village, a suburb of the greater Denver area along the edge of the Colorado mountains, is a small city park of just about 3 acres. While so many municipal parks are using massive amounts of water to maintain the typical lush green grass, the managers, community and partners at Prairie Vista Park have a different idea. They are working hard to shift paradigms around what constitutes a desirable city park and are innovating on how this small space can educate and influence real regenerative change in urban areas around the world.

One of the first sub-urban parks of its kind, Prairie Vista Park provides a rehabilitative and sustainable park within the Cherry Creek Vista community with a desire to demonstrate a thriving prairie environment. The design of the park includes a new experiential natural playground, shade elements, walking trails, a demonstration native prairie garden, interpretive signage and natural waterways. The park focuses on re-naturalizing open land over the next decade with views to the east and connection to trails from adjacent Peakview Park and Cherry Creek State Park’s trail system.

Recently regraded and reseeded with native grasses, the park was designed with a planning and construction grant awarded by Arapahoe County Open Space over the past 3-years. The management plan centers upon a low impact holistic approach, to rehabilitate the bare field as a thriving prairie environment. The goal is to continue to promote balanced and active native plant and animal species, minimizing negative human intervention and impacts, while increasing use in the park’s designated active areas.

 Photo: Completed experiential natural playground.

Photo: Baseline comprehensive monitoring.

Education and community support is a priority for the park and key to its success. This in turn will influence further expansion of management priorities in surrounding city parks and open spaces. The Savory Institute worked with park planners to create multiple educational signs to be placed along park trails. These signs are written for varying ages and focus on the dynamics of a healthy prairie and how animals, plants and humans work together to establish and maintain healthy soils that sustain all life. This is just the beginning of many fun, dynamic and educational initiatives within the park for years to come!

Throughout the planning and development stage, the Savory Institute and its partners have worked to help managers, influencers and stakeholders develop a comprehensive holistic context and management plan for the park along with training on context based decision making and plant and animal relationships with each other and the soil. The management plan includes the park’s comprehensive holistic context, annual monitoring plans and continuing education of the local community. Additionally, once seed has established, park managers plan to work with an urban goat herd as a part of the land management initiative within the park.

As water becomes an even greater issue in cities around the world, this project is ultimately the beginning of the re-naturalization of many heavily water dependent parks within the greater Denver area and will influence the holistically focused management of these parks and open spaces along with general water usage and storage. As these city spaces, and those within each city watershed, are managed with increased ground water capture in mind, urban spaces increase their viability and sustainability. Prairie Vista Park is on the forefront of this vital change with the help of invested partners including Arapahoe County Open Space, Root Partnership, JBK Landscape Inc., and Denver Water.

Photo: Prairie Vista Park