A Brief History of South Suburban
Recreation and leisure time are some of the most valued aspects of life. In the U.S., by the early 1900’s, people gained more opportunities for shorter workdays and time for vacations. With fewer hours spent at work, people’s expectations for recreation started to grow. Public committees began to form and petitions were presented to the courts requesting the formation of public parks and recreational facilities.
The persistence of some of these groups led to the creation of parks and recreation organizations for the purpose of focusing attention and action on planning and providing recreation and leisure activities for constituents. South Suburban Park and Recreation District began as a citizen initiative. More than a half-century after its creation, South Suburban continues to be guided by the involvement and support of the 155,000 residents it serves today.
The Vision for Recreation
In the late 1950’s, several civic leaders from Arapahoe County sparked the idea for a large public park when 273 acres became available for purchase at the former Fort Logan military base. They envisioned a park that would rival Denver’s City Park by building a park that would include a golf course, tennis courts, bridle paths, a swimming pool and other recreational amenities for families.
Their vision expanded as they imagined a parks organization supported by citizens residing within its boundaries. This parks organization would plan and construct additional public parks and develop recreational programs for the enjoyment and benefit of the entire community.
A citizens committee formed and began the process of forming a public park district and acquiring land. Petitions requesting support for a property tax for parks and recreation were circulated to residents within the proposed district. The committee submitted the required amount of signed petitions to the court that had final authority about the request.
On October 30, 1959, the South Suburban Metropolitan Recreation and Park District was officially declared. Although the Fort Logan land never came to fruition, the concept it represented served as the catalyst to fulfill the ultimate vision of those initial dreamers.
The Early Years
Recreational programming and events were developed primarily on school grounds until the District started to acquire land through partnership or purchase. Softball, horsemanship, baseball, baton twirling, kite flying, soccer, tennis, square dancing, playground activities and an “over 50 club” were some of the programs offered in the early years. The District contracted with the school districts to utilize school pools and offer public swimming and lessons.
Harlow Pool was the first pool that the District actually built.
As the District acquired land, parks and recreational facilities were planned and built as funds became available. In 1962, an outdoor ice rink was purchased and located on what was then the Arapahoe County Fairgrounds. The land was leased and planning began to build the indoor South Suburban Ice Arena, which opened in 1969.
Tennis courts were constructed on several sites. Through a mutually beneficial agreement with the City of Littleton and Arapahoe Park and Recreation District, 28 additional parks and open spaces were added under the District’s management, providing many more opportunities for organized activities.
One of the highlights of this first decade was an agreement with the Denver Water Board to lease a portion of the High Line Canal and open a trail for hiking. This trail served as the backbone from which a comprehensive and popular trails system was developed by the District overtime.
The 1970’s: A Time of Planning
By the 70’s, the District served approximately 60,000 residents, nearly 35% more people than when it was formed. The District’s Board of Directors recognized the need for a long-range plan to guide the growth of parks and recreation. The Board invited citizen volunteers to provide input and develop a 20-year master plan to ensure the District could fulfill its mission. Residents supported the plan and voted to approve $2 million in general bond funding for the District to acquire and develop more land for parks, recreational facilities, and open space.
Major expansions of services during this time included opening the District’ first golf course, South Suburban Golf Course, and opening Sheridan and Goodson recreation centers. Holly Pool and Tennis Courts and Cook Creek Pool were added, as well as many other tennis courts and multipurpose athletic fields.
The process of involving citizen participation in planning continues to be a guiding principal for the District and the long-range plan is updated about every five years.
The 1980’s: A Time of Growth
The National Parks and Recreation Association awarded the District with a Gold Medal Award in 1980 - the highest and most honored award for excellence in management of parks, trails, open space and recreation facilities and programs. Those management skills were key to the District’s success in building facilities and providing programs for a population base that grew to over 100,000 residents in the 80’s.
Voters approved general obligation bond funding and a property tax increase to authorize 40 planned parks and recreation improvements to become a reality for the community.
A major project during this time was the construction of a golf course and indoor tennis “bubble,” now known as the Littleton Golf and Tennis Club. The District also formed a Senior Citizen Task Force to address special needs, which led to the Littleton Community Center opening in 1986. The City of Littleton entered into an agreement with the District to manage South Platte Park, which over the years has grown to 870 acres of open space.
At the close of this decade, the District shortened its name and became known, as it is today, the South Suburban Park and Recreation District.
The benefits of recreation were recognized as endless opportunities to improve one’s health and enhance property values through easy access to green parks and vibrant trails. Voters supported planned parks and recreation in their community and sup- ported the District’s efforts on their behalf.
During the 90’s, the District purchased the ailing Lone Tree Golf Club and turned it into a thriving regional golf course. When Hudson Gardens found its endeavors struggling, the District was able to purchase this amenity and add its management skills to turn the facility “around.”
A BMX racing track was constructed near County Line Road and Colorado Boulevard, and the District’s first skateboard park and inline hockey rink were built on what is now known as Cornerstone Park.
The District took advantage of advances in technology and began to install water and energy conservation systems in parks and facilities. Additionally, the District launched its interactive parks and recreation website to provide 24/7 access to information and make it more convenient for people to sign up for 1000’s of classes.
The National Parks and Recreation Association presented the District with another Gold Medal Award for excellence in management.
The New Millennium: Year 2000 and Beyond
Throughout its history, the District has fostered partnerships and collaborations to achieve its mission of improving residents’ quality of life through parks, trails, open space and recreational facilities and programs.
The District often partners with the cities, counties, school districts and many public and private organizations such as the Division of Wildlife and organized youth sports groups, which also serve residents living within the District’s boundaries.
When the District geared up to ask voters in 2000 to support several major projects such as athletic fields and open space, Arapahoe County came forward with land to build David A. Lorenz Regional Park. Through this partnership, an innovative project developed to turn a former landfill into more athletic fields to help meet a continuing demand for youth sports.
In the early 2000’s, the District also utilized revenue-based funding to acquire Family Sports Center. When voters approved funding to build the new multi-generational Douglas H. Buck Community Recreation Center in 2005 to replace the Littleton Community Center, the City of Littleton provided the land.
The Lone Tree Recreation Center opened in 2003, a result of District’s voter-approved bond funding enhanced by funding from the City of Lone Tree.
A popular water splayground opened in Cornerstone Park, with funding from the Southeast Water and Sanitation District. The City of Lone Tree has used a sale-tax initiative to provide funding for a new outdoor aquatics center and new tennis facility scheduled to open in 2009 managed by the District and built on the District-owned land.
In 2009, the City of Centennial partnered with South Suburban to fund a new spraypad at the District’s Franklin Pool and improvements at Goodson Recreation Center.
In 2018 the District purchased land from the City of Lone which included the Schweiger Ranch and RidgeGate East.
The District has been a leader in forming the South Platte Working Group, a collaboration of more than 19 agencies to enhance the recreational experience along the Mary Carter Greenway Trail and South Platte River corridor. Through a $5.25 million Great Outdoors Colorado Legacy Grant and matching funds from agencies including Arapahoe County Open Space, parcels of land are being acquired along the river to buffer it from commercial development, preserve wildlife habitat, improve water quality and enhance the experience of trail and open space users.
For eight years running, the District has received the highest approval rating for accounting standards and communication with its public, from the Government Finance Officers Association.
For more than half a century, South Suburban Park and Recreation District’s “business” has been to plan, build and manage the many recreation assets it provides for its residents. Today, 155,000 residents count on South Suburban to provide close-to-home parks and open space, safe playgrounds for children, convenient trails and exciting recreation facilities and programs to serve a variety of needs and desires.