Rock Climbing in the Park

A theme for this blog is expecting more out of your park. Purpose-built climbing boulders are a great addition to parks and can even work as “functional art.” They meet most playground height requirements, do not require one to use ropes, harnesses, or climbing gear, fill a small footprint, and can be value designed towards a budget. They require a rubber mulch or other soft material of sufficient depth to cushion falls; however, as they are not very high, serious injury is unlikely.

One fun thing I like to do is try to work across the wall, rather than always try different problems to the top. A problem is a term used in bouldering to describe a particular path that a climber takes in order to complete the climb – much the same as a route in roped climbing. In climbing/bouldering gyms these different paths/routes are marked with different colors. Two climbers working on the same wall can be solving problems at very different difficulty levels. The bouldering scale in the United States runs from a V0 (roughly a 5.9 rope climb route) to V16 (near impossible). Boulderers do not always agree on the difficulty of a particular problem using a single system due to differences in size, reach, and other factors. Therefore, a consensus about equivalences among the various systems does not exist.

Perhaps underscoring climbing’s egalitarian nature, it is one of the few sports that I can think of where individuals of widely different skill levels can work out together with mutual satisfaction. Imagine training for a marathon with someone who runs six-minute miles if you are a slow runner, or playing tennis with someone who competes if you are just learning  – both parties will likely have a terrible time. This is not the case with bouldering.

Expect more from your parks – climbing walls are a great amenity option.

Check out some of the cool products from Eldorado Climbing Walls out of Boulder, CO.

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Courtney climbing on a wall in Castle Rock, Colorado at the park located near the Douglas County Fairgrounds – Right off Plum Creek Parkway.

Prospect New Town – Beauty that is Skin Deep


I was listening to Dave Ramsey’s syndicated Money Matters show on the radio this week. A teenager called in asking for advice on buying his first car – he only had $2600 to spend. Dave retold a story about a station employee he had circa 2006 who drove an early 80s, maroon, Ford big-body they called “Big Red.” It was terrible to behold, but mechanically flawless. It had belonged to the station employee’s old aunt, and had barely 20,000 miles on it in 20 years. Dave told the kid he could either get a good looking, mechanically unreliable car for $2,600, or an ugly “beater” that was mechanically sound. When he was in high school, Dave would have made a poor choice and gotten a flashy piece of junk. His financial advice to the teen, get a mechanically sound, ugly car.

Prospect New Town, a new urbanist enclave just off highway 287, about a mile south of Downtown Longmont has the new car gloss. Its tagline, “eat, shop, recharge,” is even a catchy variation on the ubiquitous and overused “live, work, play.” I wonder what Don Draper would think? Slick. It features tree-lined streets. It has the luxury brand pedigree being designed by none other than DPZ, the architecture and planning firm of husband and wife team extraordinaire Andrés Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk. The pair literally wrote the book on New Urbanism. This post is not a critique of their legacy or movement; their reputation as visionary planners and architects is secure.

Back to Prospect New Town… The best way I can describe it is as a mixed use village combining a dense, colorful hodgepodge of Northern European, row house, colonial, and Jetsons architectural styles. And by Jetsons, I refer not to an architectural movement, but the Hanna-Barbera cartoon.

But, great cities are more than streets and structures – they are about great parks. Public spaces are at the very heart of the world’s great districts. So with Prospect’s Cadillac pedigree, I expected thoughtful pocket parks and public focal-points, maybe a mini Olmstedian-central park brimming with recreation equipment, public art, community gardens, pavilions, and the unexpected.

What the residents and visitors get instead is a bereft, treeless field near the entrance, and a couple of pocket parks, some benches, and a very average children’s plastic playscape. Except for a few people walking their dogs, it was deserted. After a few minutes, my girlfriend said, “let’s leave, there’s nothing here.”

She’s right. One would be better off buying an old house on the east side of downtown Longmont, back on square city blocks with broken sidewalks, within walking distance of Mainstreet, a bustling downtown, the library, museum, schools built by the WPA, trails, city parks brimming with the art, cool playscapes, and authenticity.

Great urban places start with a pedestrian-friendly, small-block grid, thoughtful plazas, parks, art, an organic mix of uses, and time to become authentic. Prospect is the $3,000 Ford Mustang GT that this former high school kid lusted after – not the hand-me-down, maroon Volvo 240 that he actually got that ran for years. Maybe in a hundred years Prospect will be such a place, a fully realized mini city; however, it feels empty and I expect more – much more. It’s as if they spent 90% of their design budget and effort on the buildings and ran out of time and money for parks, plazas, and the public realm.

If you really want to live, work, and play where you live, maybe forget New Urbanism and go old school…

Pride of Place

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Pride of place is an idiom for the “most prominent or important position among a group of things.” Waneka Lake Park in Lafayette, Colorado is just such a place. Understatedly billed by the City of Lafayette as a “recreational and wildlife refuge in a suburban setting,” it is much more.

But first, why do we plan parks? Who are they for? Why did I become a planner? Wait! What does this have to do with Waneka Lake Park? In short, everything. Encountering such a thoughtful design and excellent – maybe perfect – execution was a cause for personal and philosophical reflection.

As a planning student, I was captivated by grand plans. As Daniel Burnham famously said, “make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably themselves will not be realized.” For many planning novices, planning was a real-world Sim City, and the urban landscape a palate on which to paint grand redevelopments, futuristic transportation grids, and design the cities of tomorrow. Fast forward a few years, and things like fiscal constraints and long-range schedules (long time from now) get in the way of dreams – or do they?

Can you make big plans for small places? Why do we have to settle for a park being just a lawn with maybe a trail, a pavilion, and some landscaping? Can parks be much more? Can small spaces be great?

I visited Waneka Lake Park on a cold, wintry, December day during a snow storm. Why? I had an inclination to climb rope. It was literally the only outdoor recreation area featuring fitness stations that I knew of that had a rope to climb. According to the website: the park features playground structures, shelter facilities, picnic tables, benches, fishing areas, and a 1.2 mile fitness trail for walking, biking or running within its 147 acres. Can a suburban park really be all things to all people – you judge. It also has a baseball field, basketball court, BBQ grill, benches, biking trail, birdwatching, boathouse, canoes, cross-country skiing, disk golf, drinking fountain, fishing, fitness trail, paddleboats, park, park shelter, parking, paved path, pet pick-up station, picnic shelter, picnic table, playground, recycle bin, restrooms, running path, soccer field (practice), soft-surface paths, trash bin, walking, and wildlife viewing platform.

Wait! I forgot commemorative benches, interpretive signs, and a mini library!

On the day that I was there, literally in a blowing snowstorm, I witnessed people jogging, walking, walking dogs, on dates, playing disk golf, and a large birding group with high-end binoculars – and me climbing rope and working out on the fitness stations. More than just a work out, I saw countless Canadian Geese and a really colorful and pretty American Kestrel – American’s littlest falcon – hunting for rodents.

Waneka Lake Park is an exceptionally well organized space and a credit to its planners. The execution takes recreation equity seriously by seamlessly weaving recreational and fitness amenities, water activities, public art, and interpretive opportunities within a beautiful natural area – all of this surrounding by suburbs. Likely, the lake – really a reservoir – also serves as an important water supply/detention resource. I digress, nothing about the amenities seemed particularly expensive, or difficult, just well thought out. Multiple uses, and multiple users – human and animal, coexisted together. Its diversity of activities is probably why it was so well utilized on what most would consider a horrible weather day.

Maybe you don’t have this much space; however, If they could do all of this in 147 acres, what could you do in your community? Great planners don’t need to constantly reinvent the wheel. Observe, share, and spread best practices. Johnny Appleseed didn’t get mired in soil studies and context, he spread nurseries. He had a business plan of sharing best practices. Public art is good. BBQ grills are good. Fitness stations are good – we have an obesity epidemic remember. These are not mutually exclusive things when space planned and well organized. Maybe that utility easement strip under some 100 foot-tall high-voltage lines can be a fitness challenge? Maybe that little retention facility that collects old couches can be a community centerpiece?

I challenge you to take parks to the next level. Waneka Lake Park is the best suburban “recreation and wildlife refuge” that I have seen. Hell, it’s the best in America. Prove me wrong! How many parks have seen so well utilized during a blizzard? Well, maybe a snowstorm, but still. Make big plans for your parks – even the little ones. Don’t settle for less. Have pride in your places.

Waneka Lake Park Map

Waneka Lake Park Map

Waneka Lake Park’s Homepage:






Manitou Springs, Colorado, is home to The Incline, not an incline – and for those of you have attempted its 2,700 irregular, treacherous steps, it is a special kind of fitness challenge and/or stairway to hell depending opon your conditioning and perspective. It gains over 2000 feet in elevation in under nine tenths of a mile. There is an excellent Wikipedia article about the Manitou Incline if you are curious about its history.

Once one of Colorado’s best kept little secrets, it has exploded in popularity from the days when the “no trespassing” signs deterred the masses but not Olympic athletes, fitness enthusiasts, a few Colorado Springs Council Members, and me from challenging its rise. In addition to providing a leg and cardio workout from hell, it was one of the best (maybe the best) ways out there to train for Colorado’s high-altitude activities like bagging 14ers and winter sports. The Manitou Incline will kick your butt, maybe even kill you if your heart isn’t up to it.

Today however, it is slowly becoming a victim of its own success. The few times I’ve had it all to myself are long gone. Planners, politicians, and enthusiasts managed to make it “legal” a few years back through securing trail easements and improving its steps; unsurprisingly, the place has become a tourist attraction and veritable zoo on weekends. I said zoo, I’ve seen dogs, mountain bikes, and even one donkey.

Exacerbating this problem is the confluence of activities and uses that occur near the Incline trail head itself. The parking lot at its base is the parking lot for the popular Pikes Peak Cog Railway. The sole road leading up to the Incline, Ruxton Avenue, starts at a roundabout – which 99% of drivers don’t know how to use – in the bustling, touristy, and weird downtown Manitou Springs and travels uphill through a residential area to the Cog Railway parking lot. A few hundred feet past the Cog Railway/Incline lot is a very small parking lot for the Barr Trailhead – the 13.1 mile trail up to the top of Pikes Peak.

On a weekend, both lots will be full before the sun rises and you (me) get out of bed. The Cog Railway folks are closing the big lot to Incline traffic on weekends during the spring, summer, and fall months. There are a limited number of metered, on-street parking spaces along Ruxton Avenue, but most of the parking along the street requires a residential permit – meaning you live there. All of the parking lots are metered/pay parking. Though the city runs a shuttle, the area is crazy on weekends. The City of Manitou Springs has even raised the on-street parking price from a $5 minimum to $10 – it seems to no avail.

Furthermore, The Incline itself is falling apart due to the literally thousands of people climbing it per day on a busy weekend.

So…….. all of this indicates a demand for a very scarce, even singular resource and park planners are taking note. Douglas County has created a “challenge hill” – call it an incline and they will come, way too many of them – in Castle Rock at Phillip S. Miller Park.

I’ve been avoiding trying this challenge hill thing for a while, rather opting to make the nearly 70 mile drive and fighting the hoard at the real deal than wasting my time on a mini-incline. What would Arnold do? Would you rather watch Game of Thrones or another Narnia movie? But, today I caved – or should I say calved. I had limited time and needed a quick workout. I braved the snow and ice on its steps and did the Manitou Incline yesterday, my 36th time up it this year – and very nearly did it again today to burn off those Thanksgiving pounds. But, I digressed, and attacked its little sister.

To my surprise, and the credit of Douglas County park planners, it was legit. There were about ten people there working out, ample parking, and the thing had 200 steps. Better yet, it looked and felt like the real thing, except safer – like no exposed re-bar. Wearing my steezy trail running shoes and sporting an attitude of superiority, I ran right at it. About 100 steps in I realized I had under estimated this stair challenge. It grew steeper – think curved like a ski jump – and the burn in my quads, 208 bpm heart rate, and breakfast burrito in my stomach 86ed my plan to sprint to the top. I settled for a brisk climb instead and five-timed it – up down up down up down up down up down.

This thing was slegit – yes that is my word combining steezy, sleazy, and legit indicating my approval. They even thought to number every tenth stair so you can do sprints, alternating side to side, or just know how far you are from your goal in running it. There is even a trail and switchbacks down from the top in case you want to run down, or your old knees aren’t up for hopping down. Walking down these things is hell on the knees – especially old knees. I noticed an older gentleman – like 45 – going up the stairs, running down the switchbacks, and then up again. I’ll be there in a bout ten years, but still opted to hop scotch down rather than jog the switchbacks.

I’ll still do the real thing, but this new kid on the block is the real deal. Why fight traffic, pay for parking, and put 140 miles on my car once or twice a week when I can drive 15 minutes south of Denver and destroy myself on the stair challenge three times a week? There are even zip lines down – but you have to pay for these and they appeared closed for the winter. There are some visual impacts, but these depend largely on topography and vegetation. You can see the Manitou Incline for miles because it cuts through the trees – the Castle Rock one I had to get pretty close to before I even saw it as it cuts through prairie grass and shrubs.

My fastest time on the Manitou Incline was 35:49. Maybe if I train on the mini-cline three times a week, up down as many times as I can, I’ll break my personal best. I’m hooked… I mean sore… I mean respect. I hope more of these stair challenges will come to a hill, bluff, butte, or mound near you. I’m not posting a map to the stair challenge in Castle Rock, you’ll have to find it yourself. Train hard, just stay, its mine!

Oh wait! I forgot to mention that both these inclines offer impressive views great for selfies to make your flat-lander friends envious.

So up down, up down, up down, up down, up down it is.


Another blog post on Castle Rock’s Mini-Incline.

Hans Friedel

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