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Utah Park

By Jenna Baker, Special Projects Coordinator, City of Aurora, Colorado




Colorado Designscapes planted more than 325 trees by hand, including Lanceleaf cottonwoods. The shrubs are a combination of Willows and Dogwoods.

Cost of Wisconsin
Playworld Came America
Playworld Came America

Colorado Designscapes overcomes challenges and scope to turn a 1970's era flood detention facility into a stunning multi-functional area at Utah Park in Aurora, Colorado. Utah Park received a $5.6 million dollar renovation to address the need for additional floodwater retention capabilities, but also to create a world-class community park.







The structure feature three custom steel roof panels and four custom supporting columns. Tubular steel pieces were used for the roof frames, while a combination of punched, painted steel and standing seam metal for the roofing. The columns are approximately 20 feet high, formed and made with Agilia mix (self consolidating) custom pre-cast colored concrete. Low, middle and high level roof canopies provide for plenty of shade. Each canopy is bi-directionally tilted. The roof canopies were custom fabricated on site. Ten cubic yards of concrete per pier were applied for a total of 40 cubic yards. Steel plates were bolted and cast into each of the concrete piers. The roof beams were welded with steel shims to the steel plates.






The landscape contractor planted Sandbar willows, Peachleaf willow and rushes to accent the boardwalk crossing. Its bridge was constructed of pressure treated wood substructure, trex decking and benches. Helical piers resting on concrete caps anchor the boardwalk. Big R Manufacturing constructed the arched bridge, delivered it to site and craned it into place. Coloscapes Concrete, LLC. In stalled concrete abutments for support.


The master plan for the park was massive in scope, as it involved re-grading the majority of the park. 80,000 cubic-yards of earth was excavated and used to create an aesthetically pleasing topography, as well as to berm the perimeter. Ball fields were moved to higher areas and previously buried storm sewer lines were day-lighted to create surface flows through the park.

Excavation created a bowl near the center of the park, but the landscape design of rolling berms cleverly disguises the park's primary function of flood control. Once grading was completed, Colorado Designscapes planted a large conversation area within the 47-acre Utah Park with native grasses like Buffalo Grass, Blue Grama Grass, Sideoats Grama and Prairie June Grass.

Once established the native grass areas require far less water and maintenance, while adding depth and contrast that nicely compliments the developed turf areas. Designscapes planted more than 325 trees by hand, which worked out to more than 24,178 man-hours of labor. The landscape contractor planted the majority of the trees in seeded areas and they required no mulch or compost during planting. The trees not located in seeded area were planted in mulch beds.







There were a number of contractors who collaborated on the massive structure, including Coloscapes Concrete, LLC, who created and installed the colored concrete columns. Newt Welding and Fabrication installed the structural steel roof canopy frames. Tiley Roofing, Inc. built and installed the standing seam metal canopy roofing, and the entire structure was painted by Trujillo Special Coatings, Inc. ECI Construction Management, Inc. did the rock-work around the lake. It took the contractors several months to complete the structure overlooking the pond and park with distant views of the Rocky Mountains.






ECI Site Construction Management, Inc. built a rock edge to stabilize and form the newly created bank of Westerly Creek. These granite rocks came from the Elk Creek quarry, outside of Evergreen, Colorado, and they were delivered to the site via end-dump trailers.


Relocating the Pond

The original pond at Utah Park was relocated to provide 100-year regional flood control. The pond also has an updated re-use water irrigation system to pump water from the pond to the outer reaches of the park more efficiently. Pond edges were lined by flat surface, native sandstone boulders, which allow park users to get up close without getting muddy. Colorado Designscapes planted native riparian plants, like Baltic Rush, Narrow Leaf Cattail and Water Sedges, around the pond to enhance the aesthetic appeal and attract native wildlife like songbirds. Staff from Aurora and Urban Drainage cut willows and replanted them at Utah's pond edge as well.







Colorado Designscapes used a hydro-mulch bower to lay down the blue hydro-mulch to cover the required 22 acres. This was done to stabilize the newly drilled native Prairie June Grass seed. Hydro mulch was used to retain the soil and some moisture to help the drilled seed establish. A combination of sod, hydro-mulch and straw was used throughout the project.






Eight acres of 4-way blend Bluegrass sod was installed in eight days. The irrigation work took about three months to complete. There were 5,100 man-hours in the installation of the irrigation system itself. The park maintenance is provided by Parks Operations and Management personnel. One person is on site five days a week between April and September. Their primary function is park and lake trash removal, irrigation inspection/repair, path/sidewalk cleaning, weed spraying/removal in shrub beds and hard surfaces, assisting with mowing functions and tree/shrub pruning. The full mowing crew is on site one time each week with a 16-foot rotary mower, 11-foot rotary mower, 6-foot rotary mower and two crewmember operating string trimmers and backpack blowers.


Challenges Faced

One the primary challenges that Colorado Designscapes took on was the fact that the park's sandy soil slowed down the installation of the massive irrigation system. The contractor was faced with dealing with unstable trench walls, as well as the weather conditions that came with working in a flood plain. This was no small challenge, as Designscapes laid more than 50,750 feet of PVC irrigation pipe, in diameters from 12 inches to one inch. They wired the entire irrigation network to a Toro Scorpio Central Control System.







This custom 10-foot-high piece was created from natural Colorado Buff sandstone. The contractor installed and placed with an overhead crane. It is surrounded by reinforced concrete walk-and-mow band.






The actual benches were made from native Colorado buff sandstone, notched into the sandstone columns. Arcs were cut into the 6-inch thick slabs, and were hand tooled for the final shape, texture and edge treatment.


Updated Shelter

Park staff knew from past shelter rental data that Utah Park was one of the most requested sites in Aurora for large groups. The old shelter accommodated 80 people and was reserved each weekend throughout the spring and summer season. Given this demand, planners incorporated a significantly larger shelter with seating for 100 and plumbed restrooms nearby. The new rock-formation shelter made from pre-cast concrete is impressive and functional, offering grills, picnic benches, shade and water overlook for a naturally relaxing atmosphere. Native sandstone boulders were further incorporated, creating a vertical accent around the shelter. Colorado Designscapes surrounded the area with eight acres of 4-way blend Bluegrass sod, and hand-planted trees and shrubs.







Loveland buff sandstone from Arkins Park quarry in Loveland, Colorado was placed using excavators with three cubic yard buckets. The project is almost 30 acres and it took contractors four months to complete using 6-10 workers. The contractor used a 627 scraper, bulldozer, track hoe, excavator, a 140-caterpillar blade, and a tractor with a large disc.






The landscape contractor planted native riparian plants, such as Baltic Rush, Narrow Leaf Cattail and Water Sedges around the pond to attract native wildlife. Staff from Aurora and Urban Drainage cut willows and replanted them at the pond's edge. The pre-fabricated arched bridge is 10 feet wide and features a metal supporting deck with concrete poured on top. The low railing is made of self-weathering steel.


Conservation Design

Utah Park was also designed with conservation in mind. The Aurora Parks, Recreation & Open Space Department is following a growing, visible trend to return public lands to a more natural state. Utah Park's playground surfacing is poured in place rubber material made, in part, by recycled tires. While it serves to protect nearby homes from flooding, the park was also purposefully designed to physically and visually accommodate visitors. Walkers enjoy the 1-mile concrete and crusher fines perimeter trail.







Tatonka Playgrounds installed the playground surface. The soft surface is poured-in-place rubber matting made in part of recycled tires.


Dual Purpose Park

The landscape contractor planted native plants especially designed to attract herons, ibis, snowy egrets and killdeer, making the Trex wetland boardwalk a nature enthusiast's paradise. The engineering and design for flood control had to be precise, but park planners never lost sight of the functionality and appeal that was a top priority for park patrons. Rather than looking like a water retention area, Utah Park abounds with unique landscaping features, varied topography and personal touches like the lookout knoll and themed playground.

Due to the excellent design of the city of Aurora and the landscape installation by Colorado Designscapes, this beautifully renovated park now has a unique sense of identity that can be enjoyed by neighbors, residents and visitors in Aurora. Ownership and public buy-in was evident at the 2009 Arbor Tree planting, when over 100 volunteers spent a chilly Saturday morning planting trees in ''their'' Utah Park. Gatherings like this show how popular the park is, and how it can accommodate a full spectrum of outdoor uses, while continuing to provide necessary storm water storage and protection.


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October 20, 2019, 8:26 pm PDT

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