A Denver playground’s beloved purple dinosaur may soon be extinct

For decades McWilliams Park has been affectionately known as Dinosaur Park.

A concrete dragon by John Sutton at McWilliams Park in University Park, Nov. 26, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

A concrete dragon by John Sutton at McWilliams Park in University Park, Nov. 26, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

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The University Park neighborhood’s famous purple dinosaur may be the latest iconic Denver landmark to be pushed into extinction.

Denver Parks and Recreation is considering removing the structure from the McWilliams Park playground, which will be undergoing restorations. The dino is so well known in the neighborhood that the playground is usually called “Dinosaur Park.”

Also, it’s actually a dragon. But more on that in a moment.

“We are just hoping that the dinosaur stays or that they expand the idea and it remains Dinosaur Park,” said Councilman Paul Kashmann, who leads District 6 just north of the park. “I mean, Dinosaur Park is Dinosaur Park.”

McWilliams is slated for improvements as part of the Elevate Denver Bond Program, a fund for quality-of-life improvements around the city. This renovation will include work on the picnic area, basketball court and playground. Parks and Rec will hold their first public meeting about the park’s future on Tuesday. While removing the dinosaur is a possible plan, the agency needs to go through a public hearing process before finalizing any plans.

Further bad news for fans of the iconic dinosaur: it’s a dragon. According to a photo caption from the Denver Post, Denver artist John Sutton designed the “concrete dragon” in the 1960s as part of a series of structures for the city’s park system. Its decades-long presence in University Park has meant that generations of Denver children have scrambled across its back or climbed out of its eyes.

A concrete dragon by John Sutton at McWilliams Park in University Park, Nov. 26, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

The dragon. Or dinosaur? (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

“You can even crawl in its mouth. There are so many different things you can do on the dinosaur,” said Councilwoman Kendra Black who played on the dinosaur as a child and brought her kids to it when they were young. “Everyone I’ve talked to is outraged that they might remove the dinosaur.”

Parks and Rec spokesperson Cynthia Karvaski said that the dinosaur is deteriorating and does not currently meet playground safety guidelines. She said that the department is working with a consultant to see if the dinosaur can be replaced or re-purposed.

But while safety and structural integrity may be concerns for the city, McWilliams playground visitors past and present seem less worried about it.

“Leave the Dino alone,” Facebook user Carl Frank commented on a post by Black about the dinosaur. “I fell off that thing and got my head wedged between its ribs about 4000 times in the 70’s and here I am, 53, still standing.”

There's also a camel sculpture in McWilliams Park in University Park, Nov. 26, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

There's also a camel sculpture in McWilliams Park. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

 

Update: This story was updated to include comments from Denver Parks and Recreation.

Correction: This article has been changed to reflect that McWilliams Park is in University Park, not Wellshire. 

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