If it wasn’t for Denver’s downtown skyline poking over the horizon in the distance, you might mistake the five-plus acres of grass, trees and utility poles in Globeville for Colorado’s Eastern Plains.
It’s actually 49th and Grant. That’s where you’ll find horses in this city, in case you were wondering.
The locals call the area The Valley. It was once home to Eastern European immigrants who worked at Globeville’s smelters and brickyards in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It’s remained undeveloped since then, but never uneventful.
The field has hosted a farm and bonfire-fueled field parties. It once had a lake where an entrepreneur harvested ice, and a complementary bootleg operation. More recently it’s been a depository for heaps of trash and stolen cars after joyriders finish with them. Sometimes people light them on fire and “explode them,” said Dave Oletski, whose family has owned property at the site since the 1890s.
“People don’t respect it like they used to, so we’re trying to bring that respect back,” Oletski said.
The field’s latest iteration will be Platte Farm Open Space, a restored prairie with native grasses, pollinator beds and walking trails aimed at attracting urban nature back to the area. And of course, attracting neighbors to enjoy it.
Deer have been spotted munching the grass, as well as urban wildlife like foxes and hawks. Platte Farm Open Space will be a decidedly “passive” park — akin to a mountain park in its natural landscape — to attract the animals and insects back to the brownfield site. In other words, you won’t find a playground or anything like that.
The Denver City Council accepted a $550,000 grant from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment last month that will seal the deal after more than a decade of wrangling with lawyers, bureaucracy, a recession and various landowners. The land had to be remediated because of industrial ground pollution. It took a while for the city and Xcel Energy, which owns utilities there, to settle on a land purchase, too. And for a long time, Denver Parks and Recreation wasn’t interested in taking on new parkland because of the recession.
“It was not a priority for the city. Globeville was not a priority. There was no ‘corridor of opportunity,'” said Tangier Barnes Wright, director of community planning for Groundwork Denver, a nonprofit that aims to improve physical spaces to impel better health. “So it was kind of excruciating getting the attention of the right people.”
Groundwork, which helped raise funds for the project, enlisted City Councilwoman Robin Kniech to corral the right players, bring them to the table, and get this park done. Some of the most valuable players were Globeville locals.
“It’s an idea that came from the residents,” Kniech said. “It was their vision in their backyard.”
Oletski is integral to the neighborhood. As a kid he constantly picked up litter at his father’s direction. As an adult, he plays Santa for local kids. He and other longtime residents have taken care of The Valley all their lives, he said. So it makes sense to put in the work to rehabilitate the land.
No shovels are in the ground yet. And it could take up to three years for the short grass prairie to grow from seed into a habitat. But the space will get somewhat manicured before that.
Jan Ediger, who lives right at 49th and Grant, is thrilled with that trajectory. She’s looking forward to seeing animals nest, and fewer dust particles coming through her window in the summer (she doesn’t have air conditioning, and the dust contributes to her husband’s chronic cough, she said).
“I like to look out my window and see something other than another building,” Ediger said. “That’s hard on your heart, when that’s all you can see.”