Get to Know Your Greenway

By: J.J. Clark
SPREE Staff Writer
Other Get to Know Your Greenway Articles on left


This month we are exploring the parks in Denver that the SPREE (South Platte River Environmental Education) students visit for their Kindergarten through fifth grade excursions. SPREE students explore parks in all parts of Denver as they get to know the South Platte River and all of the nature it has to offer right in the city!

ECE and Kindergarten: Grant Frontier Park


Since SPREE started, Early Childhood Education and Kindergarten aged students have explored Grant Frontier 

Park, but just this semester, SPREE started to utilize a new park for this excursion in the heart of downtown at City of Cuernavaca Park. At Grant Frontier Park, the students explore a Pioneer Town, complete with a Horse Whim and Mining Derrick from one of Colorado’s gold mines in the mountains, learn about predators and prey bybecoming various animals that live on the South Platte River, take a nature hike, and make a splash by throwing rocks as far as they can across the river. The Pioneer Town is located on the location of one of Colorado’s first chartered towns, Montana City. The students also get to learn about the history of the Arapahoe and Cheyenne American Indians and the story of the magical cottonwood tree!

ECE and Kindergarten: City of Cuernavaca Park

At the brand new excursion at City of Cuernavaca Park, the kindergarten students learn all about animals, and even try their hand at building their own beaver dam! Students at this park explore for animals and living things along the banks of the South Platte River, learn about how different animals move by transforming into various South Platte River animals, learn about predators and prey, and even throw a few rocks into the river for fun. After learning about how beavers build their lodges and dams, the students create mini versions of beaver dams, and get to pour water from the river over them to see if they hold up in the river like the real thing!

1st Grade: Commons Park


For first grade, the students take an adventure downtown to Commons Park, just downstream of Confluence

Park, to learn about habitats and animals. At Commons Park, the students connect to the South Platte River by learning about the specific traits of animals like bugs, squirrels, deer, and more. After lunch they walk along the various trails along the South Platte River in Commons park with magnifying glasses and see what type of living things they can find at the park, looking for signs of animals like tracks, scat, sounds, holes in leaves, or whatever else they can find. They also learn how to identify some of the most common plants along the banks of the river like the coyote willow. 

2nd Grade: Bear Creek Park

2010.10.21_BCP_Grant_Ranch_056.jpegIn second grade the students head to the south-west part of town to Bear Creek Park (not the reservoir) with the giant sombrero in the playground that can be seen from Hampden. This excursion is all about living and non-living things along one of the South Platte River’s tributaries. In the morning, the students take a guided nature hike where they experience the various non-living things in the park like wind, rocks, clouds, dirt, and more. After spending some time on the brand new playground right by the Bear Creek, the students take the afternoon to explore the largest natural open space in the city of Denver. On their hike they learn how to identify plants like the Cottonwood tree, Cattail, Rabbit Brush, and find signs of beaver (including a real beaver lodge).

3rd Grade: Confluence Park


This excursion takes place at the birthplace of Denver, Confluence Park, in the heard to downtown. During this trip, the students will learn more about the Arapahoe and Cheyenne American Indians, the gold rush, and the many experiences the pioneers lived through during the formation of Denver, including the flood of the Cherry Creek in 1864 that destroyed large parts of the two settlements of Auraria and St. Charles, which were built along the banks of the Cherry Creek. In the afternoon the students reenact the flood of the South Platte River in 1965 that prompted the later foundation of the Greenway Foundation in 1974. This flood was one of the most devastating natural disasters in Denver’s history, and the resulting garbage in the river stayed there for nine years until the Greenway Foundation was formed with the charge to clean it up (see a video about the Greenway Foundation Here). After reenacting the flood, students take trash grabbers and trash bags and lend a hand in cleaning up the South Platte River.

4th Grade: Grant Frontier Park

2010.09.03_GFP_Teller_062.jpegIn fourth grade, SPREE students dive into an in-depth look into Colorado’s pioneer history, exploring and understanding mining equipment from the mountains, and homesteader life (including a recreation of a homesteader log cabin and wagon). They get to reenact the experience of gold mining, and learn about the hard life of the pioneer gold rushers of Colorado. On top of that, they hear a story about the Cottonwood tree that originated in the oral tradition of the Arapahoe and Cheyenne American Indians. After lunch, the students strap of their sandals and water ready shoes and try their hand at real gold panning in the South Platte River. They have the chance to find garnets, magnetite, quartz crystals, and real gold on their adventure. Once they have their fill of working for flakes of gold, they finish their day finding and picking up crawdads, clams, snails, and many more living creatures from the South Platte River. At the end of the day, the students have seen the uses of the South Platte River over the past 150 years of Colorado history.

5th Grade: Overland Pond

This is the final trip a SPREE student will take with the Greenway Foundation. They graduate from their SPREE 2012_04_13-opp-steele_015.jpegexperience with a boat ride on the pond in a 15-passenger raft as well as scientific water quality testing and knowledge. Students get to dress up as a beaver and learn about the various adaptations that a beaver has in order to survive in places like the South Platte River year round. They learn how the city interacts with the South Platte River through its storm drains and what they can do to help the overall health and wellness of their urban waterway. To finish the day, the students are equipped with nets and capture tanks, and they explore the pond in search for crawdads, mini snapping turtles, fish, clams, and anything else they can find living in Overland Pond.

Get to Know Your Greenway is written by SPREE staffer J.J. Clark.  Each month, J.J. explores a park along the South Platte River and ties the history of the park into his commentary.  Want to talk to J.J. about where he has been this month?  Email him at: