Upwards of 30 feet above the ground, the gangway at Arkins Promenade is a portal to a different perspective on Denver.
There's the downtown skyline a mile to the south, the Rockies to the west and cranes dotting the River North Art District (RiNo) to the east. Cars line up on the 38th Street bridge to the north en route to I-70.
As the vastness of the view settles into place, a nearer landscape comes into focus. Wide and shallow, the South Platte River flows below the promenade. A duck paddles its way through the currents. Occasional passersby walk and bike on the adjacent trail.
It's something of an eye of calm in the middle of the city's endless reverberations, separate from and integrated into the surrounding urban landscape. Adjacent to Arkins Park (better known as "RiNo ArtPark"), the promenade activates the east bank of the South Platte River.
Long after the industrialization of the South Platte, the project has taken a once-forgotten stretch of road along the river and reinvented it as a human-centric park. It's part of a bigger trend: In the last 50 years, the river entered a new phase of deindustrialization, returning it to a more natural state and rethinking it as an asset instead of an oversized gutter.
One of the first fruits borne by Elevate Denver funding, the promenade "is a great example of adaptive reuse of underutilized infrastructure," says Craig Coronato of Denver Parks and Recreation. The street that became the park, Arkins Court, "was a roadway that was really not well-maintained or even finished. It was rutted. It didn't have curbs or gutters or sidewalks. It was basically a utility corridor that was paved over, and it was a shortcut for RTD buses."
By the time the promenade opened in July 2022, what was once Arkins Court was smack-dab in the middle of RiNo, one of the most buzzed-about areas in the city. That catalyzed a vision for a decidedly different kind of park.
"The name invokes that you're walking," says Coronato. "On a promenade, you're walking in a linear fashion along the bank of a river, so there are different things you experience along that walk. There are public art elements, then there's a number of water quality features, green infrastructure, at strategic locations where they do intercept the runoff that comes from offsite and store it in a landscaped area before it is then released into the river."
The end result? "It goes into the river a little bit cleaner."
Designed by Denver-based Tres Birds Workshop, the promenade mimics RiNo as a whole. The steel walkway is supported by telephone poles and crafted from sustainably sourced lumber. Along its 400-foot length are several decks with seating; benches below are made with recycled milk jugs. For the brave, there's a triangle of webbing to climb across or lie on and look at the clouds.
Even the playground has a bit of the industrial-tinged aesthetic that predominates in these parts: There are adult-sized swings, a teeter-totter that makes use of tires and the foot of a spiral staircase that ascends up to the promenade's gangway.
"It was always intended to adopt the architectural character of the neighborhood, which is this industrial, rustic, challenged environment," says Coronato. "The design solution that was developed looked at using local materials, such as timber and concrete and steel — things that you would find in an industrial environment — put together in creative ways that reflect its context, not only its industrial context but also its proximity to the river and how the river has been altered over time, channelized and so on."
Architectural Digest took note, including it in "The 11 Most Beautiful Elevated Walkways Through Nature" in August 2022, but the promenade remains off the beaten path for most Denverites — at least for now. "I think it's an undiscovered gem," says Coronato. "At some point, it's going to be a very busy place."
Arkins Promenade is located between 35th and 38th street on the former Arkins Court, just east of the South Platte River. Images courtesy Tres Birds Workshop.