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Louisville Community Park

By Axel Bishop, ASLA, founder and partner, Design Concepts

When Design Concepts started the process for the Louisville Colorado Community Park, they knew people wanted a variety of activities. Those activities had to be close to each other so families or groups could split up, pursue their individual interests, then come back together to have lunch, relax or meet other people. After an intensive public process, community members wanted to expand the scope of the park even further. They added an outdoor theater, recreational fields, a basketball court, horseshoe pits, and as seen here with the evening sunlight highlighting it, a water play area and a playground towards the east.
Images courtesy of Design Concepts

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It also helps that the park is walkable and bikable, and close to downtown and residential neighborhoods. Dedicated in April 2006, the park features a playground, a plaza, and a picnic pavilion that celebrates the community's history and culture as an agriculture, mining, and railroad crossroads.

The firm, Design Concepts, designed the park so all activity areas are radiating out from a central civic plaza, pavilion, and restrooms. Visitors are attracted to the center, and find more activity areas clustered the closer they get to the center and fewer activities further apart on the periphery. Louisville Community Park has now become home to many of the city's annual events, such as 4th of July and Labor Day festivities, and the city council barbeque.

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In 2002, the city asked our firm to create a community gathering space, where every resident, from infant to elder, could enjoy being with neighbors and participate in fun events or sports and fitness activities. The goal of the park was to give everybody the opportunity for social interaction. Residents, many of them descendents of European immigrants who settled here generations ago, are proud of their history and cultural diversity. Founded on the plains in 1872, Louisville was an agriculture and mining town, connected by railroad to Denver 25 miles away.

The large central pavilion with restrooms resembles a Victorian-era railroad depot on the prairie and features a traditional flower garden with boxwood borders. The pavilion is named for the Caranci family, long-time members of the Louisville community. The ponds serve as storage of re-use water for irrigation purposes.

Louisville today (population 20,000) is a diverse community, but also still is home to farmers and former miners.

Louisville Community Park was originally envisioned as a site that would allow for expansion of the city's growing recreational services program, with a soccer field, a playground, a picnic pavilion, and parking facilities. The city hired Design Concepts to design all those elements, but also to create a center where people could meet and socialize with their neighbors. City officials wanted a town center park, a place for everybody.

One of the activity areas is an irrigated, off-leash dog park with a custom "dog shelter". The dog park is fully fenced and also includes a pond which uses reclaimed domestic water from the city's wastewater treatment plant for dogs to frolic in and a sandy beach.

Planning Process

As lead consultant, Design Concepts' role was three-fold: as educator, facilitator, and design coordinator. Early on in the two-year planning process, as Design Concepts met with the public, parks and recreation staff, and the city council, we learned that our role was to understand the community's values, to help develop activities that reflected these values, and most important, to create an atmosphere and places where residents could pursue activities while meeting their neighbors.

During a series of public design meetings, the project team, city staff, and the community reconceived the park as a civic gathering space with a much wider range of activities and events.

Design Concepts worked with city officials to explain the effort and costs involved in commissioning a community park. The firm prepared preliminary designs and estimates, and presented them to the city council and staff. Design Concepts then prepared a concept plan that incorporated the desired components and met the city's financial requirements. The city council approved the concept plan and a construction budget of $500,000 to $600,000 in May 2003.

The inclusion of native boulders on the site provide additional seating areas. Some are etched with native plants, such as this apache plume. The central playground reflects the community's mining and railroad history. Partially funded by Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO), it features a concrete climbing structure that resembles a mine shaft, and a sprayground with jets that kids can activate.

Beginning in July 2003, the project team led an intensive public process involving community members in the final design and master plan of the park. It soon became apparent that many community members wanted to further expand the scope of the park. These new facilities included an outdoor theater, recreational fields, bocce courts (a special request from the community to reflect its Italian heritage), a basketball court, horseshoe pits, a water-play area, an off-leash, irrigated dog park with a pond and sandy beach, several picnic/shade shelters, ornamental gardens, and a half-mile walking path on the periphery.

Design Concepts and the city staff reconciled the various comments and requests into a master plan and budget, which in spring 2004 received broad support from the city council and citizens. The revised plan called for quadrupling the original project budget. A $200,000 Local Parks and Outdoor Recreation grant from Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO), a state lottery-funded agency, and the involvement of the Boulder County Youth Corps in construction helped underwrite the costs of building a water feature, playground structures, the basketball court, and a small picnic shelter.

The documents were placed out to bid at the end of 2004 and came in under budget, allowing the city to proceed with the upgrades and complete the project in one phase. Construction began in March 2005 and was completed in April 2006.

The juxtaposition of city, farm and nature is integral to Louisville's local identity, as is the city's commercial and industrial past. Some 200 feet beneath the park's surface is the historic and long abandoned Acme Coal mine site, in operation from 1890-1928. The custom built Acme Mine climbing structure reminds people of the mine entrance and their roots.


The park site is located at the edge of Old Town, where historic, urban, and pastoral landscapes intersect next to railroad property, single-family homes, Coal Creek, and an historic farmstead.

As part of the planning process, the design team selected a design theme of "crossroads of historical influences," reflecting the community's history and sense of place, which are evident in the historic buildings of Louisville's Old Town.

The juxtaposition of city, farm, and nature is integral to local identity, as is the city's commercial and industrial past. Some 200 feet beneath the park's surface is the historic Acme Coal Mine, long-abandoned and naturally flooded with water (the water helps support the mine ceilings). The crossroads theme pulled together ideas for the park design. The theme won wide acceptance and provided an educational tool for explaining the design process to the public and public officials.

Park visitors enjoy the picnic shelter which shows the design theme of "crossroads of historical influences," reflecting the community's history and sense of place, which are both evident in the historic buildings of Louisville's Old Town.

There is no set formula for spacing activities in a park, but our sense from having designed numerous parks is that people want a variety of activities close to each other so they can go as a family or group, split up and pursue their individual interests, and come back together, maybe to have lunch, relax, or meet other people. This was true for the Louisville community: People wanted to walk the dog while keeping tabs on one child at the playground and another at the BMX dirt-bike hill.

They wanted to play bocce or horseshoes, or just watch while sipping coffee in a covered pavilion. They wanted to play basketball or soccer and then have a family picnic next to a garden.

The firm designed the park to include all of these activity areas radiating out from a central civic plaza, pavilion, and restrooms. Visitors are attracted to the center, and find more activity areas clustered the closer they get to the center and fewer activities further apart on the periphery.

The interior park roads and parking lots were designed to be narrow, linear, and winding. This also allowed visitors to park close to their activities such as the three bocce courts, which reflect the wishes of the Italian community in Louisville.


The park was bordered by houses that fronted the city land on the west side, houses that backed up to the park on the north side, a county road and railroad buffer on the east side, and open space and farmland on the south side. One challenge was objections from neighbors who bordered the park, which had been private land that was used as open space before the city purchased it. The neighbors were concerned about the proximity of park visitors to their private space. They were especially concerned about the noise, crowds, parking, and degradation of land they thought would occur with a dog park and ponds.

The design team addressed these concerns during the public collaborative-design process; the final plan sited the dog park in the southeast part of the site, away from homes and screened from the central shelter and the neighbors by tall grasses. Ponds on the southeast and east sides store reclaimed domestic water from the city's wastewater treatment plant for use in irrigating the park (dogs can frolic in one of the ponds). On the north side, berms help to screen the park for neighbors.

As part of the toddler play area, the interactive train play element reflects the railroad aspect of the town's history and a water play area. In the sand-play discovery area, kids can find buried agricultural items such as horseshoes.

As we began designing the park, a connector road between two busy roads was built in the city right-of-way on the south side of the site, creating a physical and visual barrier to the open farmland.

The park was now surrounded on three sides by roads, which created a peninsula effect. To compensate for the sea of asphalt, we designed interior park roads and parking lots to be narrow, linear, and winding. This also allowed visitors to park close to their activities. Landscaping with trees and shrubs along the park edges eventually will create shade, canopy, and some screening from the roads.

The design of the shelter, as well as the paving concepts of tracks, mine tunnels and vaults, represent the rich history of the site and the community. The Victorian-era railroad depot is part of the essence of the park and it's social purpose.


When we think about why Louisville Community Park's design works so well, key factors are that the park accurately reflects the values of the city, offers a little bit of something for everyone, and locates activities together so everyone can do what they like and still be together, meeting their neighbors.

Railroad tracks in the concrete give identity and represent the importance of the railroad to the development of the town. The concrete in the plaza was stained and sandblasted with two-dimensional patterns that depict the underground vaults and tunnels from the Acme Coal Mine.

Axel Bishop, ASLA, is a founder and partner of Design Concepts, a 16-person landscape architecture and community planning firm in Lafayette, Colorado, that specializes in planning and designing for public parks, schools, new communities, and national, city and town recreation master planning.

Founded in 1981, the firm's work has been featured in The Denver Post, Urban Land, and many other publications. For more information:

Visit Design Concepts' Virtual Arboretum

The success of Louisville Community Park has inspired a new Design Concepts innovation: the Design Concepts Virtual Arboretum. The virtual arboretum adds another layer of meaning and usefulness to the park and enhances the value of our services. Visitors to the virtual arboretum, located on our website, can download a brochure with a map of the park in which all of the trees are shown and labeled. The digital resource gives people another reason to visit the park, and encourages them to learn about trees and to stay longer and walk further once they arrive. To visit, go to and click on Virtual Arboretum.

Louisville Community Park, Louisville, Colo.

  • Lead Designers: Design Concepts, Lafayette, Colo.Architects: Dennis L. Bloemker & Associates, Longmont, Colo.Consulting Engineers: JVA, Inc. of Boulder, Colo.Custom Designed Elements: Monolithic Sculptures, Inc. of Boulder, Colo. (climbing structure), and Neosource of Denver, Colo. (picnic shelters)General Contractor: Golden Triangle Construction, Inc., Broomfield, Colo.
  • Construction Management: Siteworks Services, Inc., Littleton, Colo.
  • Landscape Contractor: Urban Farmer, Thornton, Colo.

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October 19, 2019, 10:45 pm PDT

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