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.