PROJECT FACT SHEET
Project Name: Native Legends Park
Location: Castle Rock, Colorado
Construction Budget: $100,000
Purpose of Project
The landscape architect designed a concrete trail system in the Y-shaped open space established in the master plan, also completed by the firm. Occupying a soft ridge between several neighborhood parcels, the trail system is the primary pedestrian connection between two major parks in the development (Butterfield to the north, and Paintbrush to the south) and the proposed town center to the east. The ridge is dominated by short-grass prairie and yucca. The trail has exceptional views of the Front Range and the surrounding bluffs of the Castle Rock area, but very little of interest in the middle distance or foreground. The trail design was to include interpretive learning stations along its length, but the client had not identified a clear compelling message or a source for the content. The client’s expectations were for the traditional Park Service format of waist-high tilted panels describing the history of settlement in Castle Rock. Irrigation and lighting for this project were not economically feasible.
Role of the Participants
The landscape architect approached the project through spatial relationships, recognizing that the main resource of the space were the views, from one to 25 miles away. There was nothing in the immediate area that would respond to conventional signage. The design must create a context for the distant vistas, must frame them, which would require a large-scale solution. This also answered an additional constraint of the master plan, which had placed stations one-quarter to one-half mile apart. The only way visitors would know there was a system of signage rather than a stand-alone sign would be if the monuments could be seen from afar – in other words, if they were large-scale.
The firm’s design charrette produced the concept of pairs of monumental boulders or slabs of rock that could be used to frame or direct a particular view. Text and images on the surface of the rock could be raised to eye-level and provide a more direct connection to the views beyond.
The designers next considered what interpretive content would go on the slabs, asking what story they could tell about the Front Range and the Rampart Range, a series of bluffs in the Castle Rock area. The firm’s graphic artist had worked for the Denver Museum of Nature and Science and mentioned that one of its curators, Kirk Johnson, had just completed a book about the paleontological and geologic history of the Denver basin. The designers arranged a site visit with the curator, whose enthusiasm convinced the client that the text and images would provide visitors with a deeper connection to their surroundings by educating them about its geologic history. The landscape architecture firm designed the interpretive learning stations including composition of views, made final decisions on the content of each slab, composed the arrangement of graphics and text on each slab, and oversaw the production and installation of the monumental slabs. Additional planting, slab bench seating and stone paving were also provided at a total of five locations.
The curator and the museum generously donated time, text, and images for this project. The firm’s art director designed the surfaces of the slabs. A structural engineer designed sub-grade concrete sleeves to support the stone slabs.
The five learning stations connect residents and visitors with a greater context of both physical space and geologic time. A total of nine sandstone slabs orient the trail user to various topographical features that surround the development. With the generous assistance of the curator and the museum, each slab tells part of the story of ancient Colorado in vivid sandblasted text, fossil images, pictograms, and inset photographs.
Native Legends Park works at multiple scales. The sandstone slabs, measuring 6½ to 7½ feet high, are visible from up to a mile away, drawing visitors into the system and then through it. The bold color panels and large graphics are legible at medium distances (100 to 200 feet). At close range (less than 20 feet), the text and smaller graphics reveal the complete message. Finally visitors are often drawn to touch the surface of the stone and feel the texture of the sandblasted images, while looking at the framed views whose subjects are one to 25 miles away.
The stone slabs at the stations provide substance and mass that a plant palette or traditional signage by itself could not. The messages are relatively informal but informative and foster a broader understanding without stodginess (for instance, tyrannosaurus rex is described as “forty tons of bad attitude”).
In addition to providing a unique interpretive asset, informal seating and clusters of native plants create a sense of anticipation and destination along an open space dominated by short-grass prairie.
The stone used in the final production is Colorado buff sandstone, a material where fossils are traditionally found. Before choosing that material, the landscape architect pursued the use of Siloam stone, a much more rustic and variable sandstone from the southern part of the state. It was believed that the Siloam stone would blend in better with the surrounding environment. A test piece was successfully sandblasted and the slabs were selected, shipped and designed. Unfortunately, the first slab had so many variations that it could not hold the small sandblasted images due to flaking and scaling. The local rhyolite was also considered but rejected because it is too soft to maintain the form of the sandblasted images.
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