Douglas County Regional Parks – Turf Alternatives

Located between the Denver and Colorado Springs metropolitan areas, Douglas County sits in the transition between the grasslands of the Great Plains to the east, and the Rocky Mountain foothills to the west, and ranges in elevation from 5,380 to 9,836 feet above sea level. This area is somewhat arid and receives approximately 12 –15 inches of rainfall per year.

Not only is Douglas County very diverse geographically, it has also been one of the fastest growing counties in the country over the past fifteen years. Douglas County continues to be one of the fastest growing counties, with this growth trend expected to continue for the next twenty years or longer.

This ever-expanding population has created an on going need for additional parkland, not only in organized athletic fields, but also playgrounds, picnic areas, unprogramed play space, and transitions between other spaces.

In 2001 the Rocky Mountain Front Range experienced the start of a drought cycle. While not unanticipated in geologic terms, the area had not experienced drought conditions in over thirty years (when the population of Colorado was less than half of what it is now) and the general public, including designers had become somewhat complacent regarding the effects of a limited water supply.

In the late 1990’s Douglas County undertook the Master Planning of two large regional park facilities to address the present and anticipated need for park and athletic space. These parks were master planned in the typical classic park design, with all areas being irrigated blue grass turf, whether it was planned as a programmed athletic field or a transition between spaces.

Why all this background information? Because between the time that the original Master Plans were completed and the final design was started, the design parameters changed significantly, and Douglas County had to rethink the way that we went about designing parks.

The population was continuing to grow rapidly, so the need for parks and athletic facilities was also growing, and our elected officials had committed to the development of additional parks, but FTEs were not being approved at the same rate as development was taking place, due to an economic down turn that caused budget short falls. Water was also becoming a design issue, not only from an availability standpoint, but also from a cost standpoint. Water was being rationed and the costs were skyrocketing.

The dilemma that Douglas County faced, was how do we maintain or increase the expected levels of athletic play and park space that were included in the original Master Plan, while conserving water, decreasing operating costs, maintenance time and costs.

This proved to be a very exciting time at the design table. The design team composed of a Landscape Architectural Consultant (design), the Douglas County Parks and Trails Planner (design and construction), The Douglas County Manager of Parks (maintenance), and various other engineers and consultants from both Douglas County and the Private Sector (design and engineering) had many spirited meetings on how to best address all of the seemingly diverging ideas and goals. The design team really expanded their visions of what the park should end up looking like and how best to achieve that end, as everyone lobbied for their ideas in the final solution.

Although there were many design suggestions that would have substantially decreased the water and maintenance costs (hard surface, zeroscaping, etc…), some were not feasible, or aesthetically pleasing in all areas. The final design solution proved to be a combination of diverse ideas, new thoughts and experimentation, that has exceeded expectations.

Instead of the classic park design where all areas are irrigated bluegrass turf, Douglas County and the design team really looked at each area of the park, as to how it functioned, and what were the demands on the surface area.

To that end Douglas County developed a template of four turf alternatives, a mixture of hard and soft surfaced areas and ornamental grasses in our new regional park designs. This design template has reduced the amount of designed irrigation consumption by 50% – 60% and reduced the maintenance cost by 30% – 40% relative to the same acreage in other previously developed regional parks within our system.

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