Arapahoe Fairgrounds

Behind the Design at the Fairgrounds ... Nature Play

The ‘play valley’ is designed especially for children to engage with the environment and interact with nature. It is a contoured natural play field gently sloping down to the pond.  

In the valley, what seems to be part of the natural environment is actually designed into the site for the sole purpose of enticing children to play.  There are stepping logs, bridge log crossings, wood footbridges, and stepping-stones strategically placed for children to explore and play.  The contoured hills along the valley are natural magnets for kids to climb, and roll back down.  Even the pathway leading through the valley is a meandering winding trail that could create a journey. The most obvious feature throughout the valley is the stream making its way from the windmill down to the pond. It’s designed to mimic an eastern prairie stream that trickles and flows and even pools up in some areas. It’s a soft low-flowing enticing stop for children who will by their own nature, walk in it, splash in it and likely even sit in it!  

Nature play is about non-structure play. It’s ‘free play’ unbounded by structures or formality. It’s putting children in their natural environment and letting their minds work…naturally.  Here, there are simply opportunities provided to encourage that interaction.

The stream flowing over rock drops at Arapahoe Fairgrounds Park

Behind the Design at the Fairgrounds ... Water!

Water is an important feature.  It’s being re-introduced on the site, re-purposed, and used in a variety of ways as features of the park.  

The Stream and its Well Water

A new well was drilled to re-introduce water, as it was a critical asset in the history of the homestead life.  Well water is used to create the stream and fill the two ponds.

The stream is fed by an aquifer that is pumped to the surface and used not only as a play and aesthetic element, but also for all of the site's irrigation demand. The site is primarily covered in native grasses, but also includes some turf grass for the heavier demand events brought by the fair

Water Vault

A specially engineered vault holds well water as well as additional sourced water.  About 20,000 gallons of water is stored in the vault that is located underneath the shed in the valley and constructed of poured-in-place concrete.


There are two ponds, both roughly ten feet deep providing a natural circulation as the warmer water rises to the surface.

The lower pond is an irrigation retention storage pond.  Detention water from storm and runoff bypasses the lower pond and goes directly to the detention pond at the northwest corner of the site.

The upper pond is located at the lower end of the valley, situated between several hills and swales.  Its water control systems like the wetland shelf look like naturally formed features.  The ‘situation basin’, designed to mitigate sediment flow, looks like a naturally created wading pool.  Two sunken rock piles and sunken logs will provide perfect habitats for fish and eventually, cattails will re-populate the wetlands area.

Behind the Design at the Fairgrounds ... “Contouring the Prairie Land”

From a gradual sloping 40-acre site, to a seemingly random rise and fall of ground swells, the park site was intentionally contoured as a design element.  Swales, berms, mesa-top hills, peaks, canyons and ridge-top expanses provide areas equivalent to secret gardens, choreographed views with window-like peeks into special areas, and natural stadium-like viewing from hillsides.

The most orchestrated view is found at the western-most entry where the eye is led across the roundabout, skimming the lower pond, up to the hilltop windmill, and terminating at the water tower with blue skies beyond.  It’s not a simple ‘Point A to Point B’ in its design; rather, it’s a flowing view along the contouring ground forms. The entry experience is a progression of glimpses into the site gradually bringing the visitor from their life outside the site to a unique fairgrounds experience.

The contouring also minimizes the frequent harsh winds prevalent on the high plains prairieland. In fact, the initial site visit conversation with Jim Abendschan, former fairgrounds manager, confirmed the constant impact:

Design Concepts: “So Jim, is the wind always blowing out here?”

Jim: “Well . . . yes, if it’s not blowing from the north, it’s blowing from the south, east or west.”