Urban Hiking New Urbanism in Denver’s Stapleton (now Central Park) Neighborhood

Stapleton. It’s a word filled with emotion and history for those that live in the neighborhood and for native residents from Denver. The largest neighborhood in Denver, this landmark spreads from north of 56th Ave to Montview, Quebec to Havana. It spans I70, contains miles and miles of trails, and houses homes for income-qualified renters to multi-millionaires.

Note: In the summer of 2020, the Stapleton residents renamed the neighborhood to Central Park.

Now spreading across two counties, walking Stapleton could take days. You could start your first day of walking on its southern edge, exploring Central Park. Your second day could take you to its newer middle, just north of I70. Your third day could drop you into its newest edge which abuts the Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Refuge to the north. But no matter how you enjoy walking in Stapleton, you’re sure to trail your way through giant parks filled with kids, dogs, moms, dads, caregivers and lots and lots of strollers.

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On this particular urban hike, you’ll walk through the first neighborhood to be built on the north side of I70, Conservatory Green and Willow Park, just north of Conservatory Green. You’ll enjoy the neighborhoods’ gardens, see how you can easily walk to the mall, view downtown from the best spot in Stapleton, and perhaps catch a picnic on one of the many outdoor picnic benches designed for neighborhood camaraderie.

Let’s Go Back a Few Years

To understand Stapleton as a neighborhood, we have to go back to the turn of the century when Mayor Benjamin Stapleton was elected mayor. He had a little help from his friends–those of the KKK–who he later renounced after a recall election. The story is complicated, and its one which current Stapleton residents have much angst. Although the residents voted recently to not change their community’s name, several vocal members of the neighborhood have not given up hope to rename their neighborhood.

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Although Mayor Stapleton had a few controversial relationships, he did have the vision to create Denver’s first commercial airport, the Denver Civic Center and a considerable expansion of the Denver Mountain Parks system, including the Amphitheatre at Red Rocks Park.

A Quandary or Two to Overcome

Despite being “all the way out in Rattlesnake Holler,” that it opened the day after the stock market crash of 1929, and that the aviation industry was fledgling at the time, Denver’s first commercial airfield succeeded and ultimately was named after Mayor Stapleton.

It flourished, airlines made hubs, and the runways got longer as the airplanes got bigger. The FAA put building restrictions on downtown, Park Hill Neighborhood organized and filed noise lawsuits, and Denver ended up in a quandary about what to do with its overly successful airport that was now close to town.

The Only Constant Is Change

In the meantime, World War II brought in mass developments of armaments and soldiers. The Rocky Mountain Arsenal pushed out tons of munitions, fuel for the space race, and barrels of pesticides. Eventually, the toxic spew stopped. The 80s arrived. A pair of bald eagles moved in; the world’s largest Superfund site got declared; and the airport needed a place to expand.

Whew, Are You Following Along?

In 1995, decisions were made. Over a billion dollars would clean up the Arsenal and turn it into a Wildlife Refuge, the Stapleton airport would close, Denver International Airport would open, and the old runways would turn into an award-winning, re-urbanized, infill development of homes for 30,000 residents, known as the Stapleton neighborhood.

Welcome to Today

All the tough, major infrastructure and development decisions have been executed. The Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Refuge flourishes with 126+ head of bison, Denver International Airport moves over 190+ flights a day, and the Stapleton neighborhood is almost built out.

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You’ll find one giant neighborhood split into communities named uniquely. Parks, trails and streets run between them, schools sprout up almost as fast as the resident students, and infill continues with new grocery stores, trendy restaurants and popular fitness studios. Art splashes itself into the public consciousness. An island within the big city limits, don’t tell Stapleton residents they live out in the suburbs.

The neighborhood has won Best Sustainable Neighborhood awards, Best Metro Vision, Awards in Excellence, Best American-Living Award, and others. Busloads of urban planners regularly come to the neighborhood to see how new urbanism has been planned. As a Stapleton resident, myself, there’s work to be done on connecting the residential sections to each other, to schools, and to commerce.

The Route (click for interactive map):

Park along the 4900 block of Tamarac St. Head north through the linear park, take a right on Stoll Place. In just a few feet, there’s a path that goes north through a strawberry patch and under an arbor. The strawberry patch, grapes, and herb garden are all public access; help yourself to any fruits and herbs.

Continue along the footpath and you’ll pass garden plots. These are private and Stapleton residents enter a lottery to be able to plant their vegetables. Pass a tot lot, another set of private garden plots and a natural playground.

At E 51st Ave, take a right. You’ll be approximately where the old de-icing field was for the Stapleton airport. Take a left on Uinta, passing from the Conservatory Green neighborhood of Stapleton to Willow Park and through parks run by Denver Park and Rec.

At Unita Way, take a right. Take a right on Wabash and then a left on Verbana St which turns into 54th Ave. You’ll be walking along the north side of the park. Cross over Central Park Blvd. You’ll see Northfield High School on your left. Follow the path to the right, making a u-turn to take you back under Central Park Blvd.

As you go under Central Park Blvd, enjoy “Drift Inversion” by David Franklin when you walk through the tunnel. When you exit the tunnel, stay on the path to the left and then follow it up and around to the high point of the park. Look to the west to catch some great views of downtown and the Rockies.

After enjoying the view, wind your self back down the path from which you came, take a sharp right at the bottom to point you westerly.

Continue on the path, crossing over the creek and having you cross E Prairie Meadow Drive. You’ll cross into another park at a playground, taking a left to walk southeasterly. Continue along the path toward 51st Ave, crossing it to go southerly along Willow St.

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Cross Stoll Place into the linear park, turning westerly and passing Willow  Elementary and DSST: Conservatory Green. Continue to Tamarac St. Take a right. Pass the world’s only Lego Lending Library (that we know of!) and return back to your start.

If you would like more places to walk in Stapleton, there are 3 more routes in The Best Urban Hikes: Denver plus two in the Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Refuge and a bonus one at First Creek at DEN Open Space.

If you liked walking in Stapleton, post your reasons why below!

Urban Hiking New Urbanism in Denver’s Stapleton Neighborhood

If you’ve enjoyed this information, maybe you’ll enjoy some other walks curated by Denver By Foot. Get the 52 Hikes 52 Weeks Denver Calendar, which recommends a hike a week, subscribe to the YouTube Channel to hear about weekly hiking suggestions in Denver, and buy access to the Denver By Foot Challenge. The Challenge is 30 activities in Denver to do by foot where you’ll uncover treasures throughout Denver. It’s a great thing to do with friends and family.

Finally, please support Denver By Foot by purchasing Chris Englert’s books, The Best Urban Hikes: Denver and Discovering Denver Parks. Thank you so much!

See you on the trail,