Aerial photo of Denver skyline at sunset

An aerial photo of the Denver skyline at sunset, taken from a park.

Denver is making good on its promise to offer a park within a 10-minute walk for all Denverites, via a park-system expansion funded by new taxpayer money.

On Monday night the Denver City Council approved its five-year plan for the Denver city parks system, financed by a newly enacted, parks-dedicated sales tax hike.

The tax increase of 0.25 percentage points — or about 2.5 cents on a $10 purchase — was approved by voters in 2018 and marks the first dedicated funding source of Denver parks. Officials expect those tax dollars to total $37.5 million in 2019 and eventually grow to $44 million annually by 2024.

Under the plan, Denver will purchase land for new city parks and green space to expand access; it will also use the funding to finance upkeep and improvements to existing parks and trails. The plan also calls for a park within a 5-minute walk in Downtown Denver.

Along with city parks, Denver will also focus on boosting access to Denver’s mountain parks system and pushing restoration and preservation of wildlife habitats and waterways.

Bart Berger, founder of the Denver Mountain Parks Foundation, said Monday during a public hearing that when he initially started his group decades ago, he sought to find a dedicated funding source for the city’s mountain parks. He soon realized, however, the whole parks system lacked dedicated funding. Now, the recently approved five-year plan includes a budget line item for bus service to the mountain parks.

“When I first started this effort, the Denver mountain parks were a curiosity, an idiosyncratic addition into the city park system, and that’s no longer the truth,” Berger said.

How will the city make good on its promise of a park within a 10-minute walk?

Gordon Robertson — director of planning, design and construction with the city’s parks department — said the city is seeking grants to conduct a study of the city to help identify land to acquire in its parks expansion.

“We have a map that identifies the deserts in our city, where we don’t have a 10-minute walk (to a park) … so we know where we are looking,” Robertson said.

Parks officials will also soon visit Seattle, Washington, and Austin, Texas, which both recently completed similar plans.

In the run-up to the 2018 vote on the parks sales tax, City Council President Jolon Clark campaigned that Denver was the only metro county without a parks-dedicated sales tax and pointed to the large backlog of parks maintenance needs and projects, due to a lack of funding.

Historically, maintenance demands at Denver parks have far exceeded the city’s capital improvements budget. The city’s Department of Parks and Recreation argues it has had to space out work over multiple years, feeding “the perception of a never-ending construction project from neighbors and park users,” according to the parks plan.

The new funding will allow the city to make good on some $130 million in deferred maintenance projects at existing parks.

The parks department will also use the dedicated funding to boost its staffing levels and construct new facilities to serve the expanding parks system, including maintenance shops, pools and offices.

Additionally, the funding will extend to recreation in Denver and help expand and maintain the department's 30 recreation centers, 13 indoor pools and 16 outdoor pools serving almost every neighborhood in the city.

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