Denver Lays Out 20-Year Plan for Parks and Rec

Andy Berg Headshot

The Denver City Council on Monday approved a 246-page document that lays out a 20-year master plan for its Parks and Recreation Department.

The “Game Plan for a Healthy City” lays out plans for more trees, recreation centers, and a network of water-efficient parks that will accommodate all residents. Denver currently spends about $2.7 million a year to water its existing parks, which don’t actually feature many trees.

According to, the authors of the report outline 25 priorities for the city to work toward, including things like reducing energy use by 25 percent over the next 10 years.

Money for the improvements is already available, after voters passed a tax increase in November that earmarks $37 million annually for parks.

“Yes, there are additional steps, but you have a massive planning process like this that has some clearly articulated, measurable goals and some of those successes are ready to be done before the plan is even adopted,” said Darrell Watson, co-chair of the resident-led group that helped hammer out Game Plan.

Some of the big goals the plan sets as reported by include:

  • Parks: About 86 percent of Denverites live within a 10-minute walk of a park, which is good compared to most American cities. Game Plan aims for 100 percent.
  • Trees: Denver has fewer shade trees than most other major cities, according to Game Plan, with just 13 percent of the city covered by trees. In the past six years, Denver has removed more trees than it has planted, and one in six trees is threatened by the emerald ash borer beetle. By 2040, officials want a tree canopy over 20 percent of the city, a relatively low goal. Austin is working on 40 percent coverage. Phoenix is aiming for 25 percent.
  • Energy conservation: The city spends almost $3 million a year watering parks, which is good for about 12 percent of Parks and Rec’s budget. Game Plan calls for a 25 percent reduction in energy use at all of its parks and recreation centers.
  • Obesity: One in six Denver kids is obese and almost half of Denver’s residential land is outside of a 10-minute walk to a playground. Game Plan calls for more playgrounds, particularly in north and west Denver.

The plan states it will prioritize low-income people and neighborhoods.

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