Twin Silo Park: Honoring A Community’s Close Connection To Nature
When Twin Silo Community Park opened in 2017, it checked all the boxes that Fort Collins, Colorado, needed in order to provide residents and visitors a wide variety of spaces and amenities for recreation:
- Paved recreation trails
- Pickleball courts
- Baseball and soccer fields
- Dog park
- Community garden
- Picnic shelters
But simply “checking the boxes” is never enough when the goal is to create a place that is not only sustainable and relevant for years to come, but also truly embraced by the community as their own. Fortunately, the City of Fort Collins has a wonderful reputation of being responsive to residents, and the city’s Director of Park Planning and Development, Kurt Friesen—himself a landscape architect with a design industry background—understood that project success required a highly integrated team with long-term vision and strong partnerships.
In fact, the Twin Silo project—a revamp of 54-acres of city-owned land previously known as Southeast Park—was a long-term effort, due in large part to a shift in project leadership that occurred after much of the new park had already been designed but not yet fully embraced. This shift enabled the team to reengage the Fort Collins community and ensure that their needs and concerns were legitimately heard and addressed. Public meetings were held at Fossil Ridge High School, which sits on the north edge of the Twin Silo site, so we knew the right and most relevant audience was present. We also had numerous one-on-one conversations with a variety of residents and other stakeholders, and during each conversation we listened carefully and tried to make clear our earnest willingness to reboot.
Common feedback underscored the community’s concern that they would be losing natural, open space to sports fields and courts that would be overprogrammed and brightly lit. Fortunately, this wasn’t the city’s goal, nor Civitas’. Nature, and the community’s relationship with it, would always be our focus.
Fort Collins has a strong agricultural heritage, and a family-owned farmhouse and barn that once stood on the site of the high school became a design inspiration. Another opportunity arose when a nearby road-widening public works project, at the intersection of Prospect and Timberline Roads, required five silos to be removed. Two of them were claimed for this project and rebuilt onsite, giving the project it’s “Twin Silo” name. Collaborator Cre8play implemented the park’s play space components and retrofitted the two 48-foot silos with a double-helix spiral stairway and a giant spiral slide—the tallest slide in Fort Collins. A combine harvester was also built into the play equipment.
All other park components would embrace this connection to agriculture and farming, and simply living in relationship with the land. Community concerns were quickly addressed by pushing vehicular parking to the park’s interior and emphasizing native landscapes and gardens on the highly visible perimeter. Recreation trails, community gardens, orchards and hops trellises would be prioritized. A harvest table with movable shade structures and hydroponic vegetable walls would be added, so people could gather and celebrate the land’s bounty. And while fields and courts would be provided and programmed for baseball, soccer and pickleball, they wouldn’t be lit.
McClelland Creek passes through the southside of the park, which also posed additional opportunities for nature-based exploration and play, especially for children learning about the relationships between the land, water and people. Reworking the creek also provided soil that not only facilitated improvements to the existing BMX course and competition site, but also provided a cost-effective solution for the creation of berms around the park, or natural landforms that created sculpted overlooks and picnic spaces connected by the park’s trails and creek crossings.
While there had been early fears that this project would take away much of the city’s natural space, in the end the wetland footprint was increased, and the site was heavily landscaped with native seed, which requires very little maintenance or manipulation to thrive. For the bluegrass turf fields that do require maintenance, a pond takes runoff from both the park and the adjacent high school and is used for irrigation.
The project demonstrates the city’s committed willingness to invest in parks and recreation, for the positive impact they have on the city’s—and its residents’—health and longevity. Yet its emphasis on sustainability contributed to its economics, too. Simple materials like concrete and prefabricated sheds kept costs down, while other components, including a bridge moved from another park, and the silos themselves were also rehabbed and reused rather than building new.