Denver Shouts ‘Get Off My Lawn’ With Obnoxious Signs in Cheesman Park

A sign directs people to stay on designated trails in Cheesman Park. Photo: Andy Bosselman
A sign directs people to stay on designated trails in Cheesman Park. Photo: Andy Bosselman

Visitors to Cheesman park are doing it all wrong. A few weeks ago, at least a dozen signs popped up right in the middle of informal trails where people run and walk. They direct people to official paths, reading:

“STOP: Using designated trails helps us sustain vegetation, prevent erosion and keep your park beautiful. Thank you! Denver Parks & Recreation.”

But at least one neighbor thinks the notices, which are attached to signposts planted in concrete, are excessive.

“It’s too much,” said Blake Johnson, who was walking his dog last night. “If you’re running and you’re not looking, it’s dangerous.”

Two runners ran on a well-established desire path yesterday evening. Photo: Andy Bosselman
Two runners ran on a well-established desire path yesterday evening. Photo: Andy Bosselman

Many people running and walking yesterday evening dodged the signs and their finger-wagging orders. Pedestrian advocates say that such paths show where people want to go and that officials should respond by building formal trails in those locations.

But soon, the informal paths will be wiped out and people will be forced to go around them when Parks & Rec fences them off later this summer. Cyndi Karvaski, a spokesperson for the department, says the effort will make the park more beautiful for parkgoers and keep people from crossing streets where there are no crosswalks.

“Denver Parks and Recreation’s primary concern is for the safety of our visitors and enjoyment of our park system,” she said. “And this enjoyment can be dependent upon the quality of their experience along a trail.”

People shouldn’t pass through the park on their way to somewhere else, either, she says.

A runner dodged a sign placed in the middle of the path he was running on. Photo: Andy Bosselman
A runner dodged a sign placed in the middle of the path he was running on. Photo: Andy Bosselman

“We want people to enjoy the experience of the park,” said Karvaski. “Our parks aren’t thoroughfares to something else.”

But Jill Locantore of WalkDenver says parks should welcome people getting from one place to another, especially considering the city’s goal of reducing the number of people who drive alone in cars.

“Parks & Rec tends to think about walkways for purely recreational purposes,” she said. “I can understand why they discourage vehicular traffic. But why on Earth would they not want people to use the park to get to where they’re trying to go?”

In fact, the city finished building out a master plan for the park in 2008, which called for improving pedestrian access to the surrounding neighborhoods and parkways. “One of the primary goals of this master plan is to create a pedestrian-oriented park,” it reads.

But the admonishing tone from the parks department reflects a failure to listen to people, an increasingly common criticism the city has faced since adopting its Denveright plans for the next 20 years, says Locantore. Informal paths, also known as desire lines, are a way for people to tell the officials what they want without attending public meetings or filling out online surveys, she says.

The Parks and Rec department says people should not enter the park using informal paths for safety reasons. Photo: Andy Bosselman
The Parks and Rec department says people should not enter the park using informal paths for safety reasons. Photo: Andy Bosselman

“I can’t think of a louder comment from people about how they want to access the park,” said Locantore. “Instead of listening to that, officials are scolding people and telling them they’re using the parks the wrong way.”

The parks department could use informal paths to guide where formal paths are laid out, she said, which would address concerns around pedestrian safety by widening existing crosswalks nearby to include the desire paths. Building designated paths in these places would also allow people with mobility challenges, like wheelchair users, to access them.

“When you have these routes that people clearly want to take into the park, you have this situation where you’re discriminating against people who cannot use those social trails,” said Locantore.

She cited the elderly residents of an apartment complex whose path indicated a desire to walk directly from their building’s parking lot into the park. But the Parks Department closed their path last year when it fenced it off.

“Last year on the east side of Cheesman Park, we fenced off the area for approximately a year-and-a-half to restore the grass and ensure people were safely crossing the street,” said Karvaski.

But the closure of their path forced the residents to walk a longer distance to get into the park, said Locantore.

“The whole point of having neighborhood parks is to be able to walk there,” she said. “We should think about our parks as not just places that people go to walk in circles, but as part of the urban fabric that people walk to and through.”


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  • enguy

    This has been an issue for years in Commons Park, which forces people to walk in a semicircle in order to go from 16th Street to 16th Street.

  • Ema

    The park is still filled with dead bodies from when it was a cemetery, but sure, be most upset about the signs. 👍🏻

  • mckillio

    “Our parks aren’t thoroughfares to something else.”

    This park has a street inside of it with multiple bus stops and an entrance to the Botanic Gardens, so yes it is a thoroughfare and should be. I’m in London right now and just walked through Green Park from doing some siteseeing to the subway, it made the experience much better, being able to take in five minutes of nature.

  • Ben Schumacher

    The informal paths that ring the edge of Cheesman Park for the runners existed and was well defined before they built the official fines path about 8 years ago. I remember because I ran the informal trail before the new one and it’s crosswalks were built. I also remember being annoyed with the randomly-wandering path they chose to give it around the park, rather than the sqauarish-oval shape that everyone wanted to run.

    My belief is that they thought the sight-lines were too short for moving vehicular traffic at the edges of the park, though I think they should have tried stop signs at the edge of the park or something to put the onus on vehicles moving safely into the park. Even better, make the park for people instead of cars.

  • TM

    This seems like a common problem with pedestrian paths, they always seem to be built in wandering, curving routes as if people on foot merely want to ramble aimlessly instead of go directly to anywhere.

  • JesusIsGay

    They fenced last year also and we just ran around them. This is some crazy persons passion project. What do I know though, I am just your gay god..

  • Wranger

    “We want people to enjoy the experience of the park,” said Karvaski. “Our parks aren’t thoroughfares to something else.”

    This is absurd! I bike through Cheesman Park, Wash Park and City Park multiple times a week to get to and from work, friends’ houses, and run errands, and I certainly enjoy the experience as I pass through. Parks tend to be safer due to fewer cars, plus I get to people watch, dog watch and check out flowers and trees along the way. When I plan rides around the city (I bike just about everywhere I go) I always look for parks that I can ride through on the way.

    Parks and Rec is being extremely short sighted by thinking this way. It explains, however, why the improvements to City Park didn’t include better access for bikes and pedestrians, particularly at Garfield on the southern side. From Colorado Blvd you have to go all the way to Steele to get a safe way to access the park from the south.

    If you don’t like this, please don’t just vent here, email your thoughts to Parks & Rec.

  • Tyler

    Is this less about desire paths and more about runners looking for a softer surface to run on?

    I don’t make it to Cheesman Park enough to be familiar with these paths, but all the pictures are of runners. Runners typically aren’t looking to get from point A to point B as quick as they can, so a wouldn’t expect them to leave the path for the purpose of taking a shorter route.

    • Ben Schumacher

      In some parts, like the NE corner of the park, it’s actually to take a longer route.

    • TM

      There are several other desire paths that are just leading into and out of the park, likely not just runners but anyone walking into the park. There is only one “official” path into the park on the south side, but there are paths worn in from each corner and toward Franklin Street.

  • They’re literally gate-keeping park use. The city should be responding to how we organically use the park, not scold us for it. The squoval running track around the edge of Cheesman was there before the wandering concrete path was installed, and it’ll still be there after.

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