Emma Gomez Martinez Park dedication

Stories about the people and places behind park names

We partnered with the University of Colorado, Boulder History Department to research and share information on the namesakes of parks in Boulder.

Project Overview

This project began in Summer 2020 as public interest and concern for addressing inequity and systemic racism grew across the country. This project takes a particular interest in place names and their impacts. Place names mark and define our landscapes, neighborhoods, and communities. They create a certain understanding of place. Place names are created with intention - be it recognizing a significant person, reflecting local geographic or geological markers, or highlighting the region’s flora and fauna. Some place names have defined landscapes as inclusive or exclusive, especially as it comes to those places named for people and families.

Across the county and in our own state, agencies are evaluating place names against a modern understanding of systemic racism.

Consider the Stapleton neighborhood in nearby Denver. This neighborhood was originally named for former Denver mayor and Klansman Benjamin Stapleton. Since its naming, the name has served as a marker of exclusion for Denver’s African American community. In 2020, with growing concerns about diversity and inclusion and in the context of recent events, the neighborhood changed its name to Central Park. Similar discussions are being had by the State of Colorado over other prominent Colorado place names, like Mount Evans.

With these local and national contexts in mind, the Boulder Parks and Recreation Department approached the History Department at the University of Colorado, Boulder to assess the names of their 82 city parks. City staff wanted to know what stories the park names were celebrating, what stories might be missing and how the park names reflect the community and its values today.

Of these 82 parks, it was found that 29 took their names from individuals or families (over 35% of the total). The remaining parks are named for streets or neighborhoods (26 parks), nearby landforms (7 parks), flora and fauna (3 parks), and other things like programs, businesses, schools, and organizations.

This project focused on parks named for individuals and families. It also includes some of the more interesting park names like Keewaydin Meadows and Arapahoe Ridge Parks and parks named for organizations like Elks Park. Together, the histories of these parks and their names detail the development of Boulder and showcase the involvement of these individuals, families, and organizations. They highlight the history of the region through agriculture, education, and mining. They show the deep and rich history of a city and its peoples, all through something as simple as park names.

This project uses the official park names for each of these parks, yet place names can sometimes be deeply personal. For some, a park may be known colloquially as the “spaceship park” or “spin park”, reflecting playground equipment. While they hold significant personal affiliations, these park names are hard to quantify. These names are noted only on one’s own mental map. The names presented here are used on official maps, reflecting the community. This project seeks to present these histories alongside their names.

The city is deeply grateful for the scholarship and partnership of the staff and students at CU Boulder's History department - they have helped us tell the stories of Boulder's park names.

Below is a table outlining the project process. For more information on this project and the City of Boulder's naming policies, see the June 2021 memo to the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board (starts on page 65).



Fall 2020

  • Undergraduate students conducted preliminary research on parks named for people to identify any with specific concerns.
  • Graduate students analyzed overall park naming patterns to identify any gaps in the naming (e.g. not recognizing First Nations or other key members of Boulder’s history)

Spring 2021

  • Undergraduate students researched six parks which were identified as having potential concerns and suggested improvements.
  • Undergraduate interns synthesized research on parks named for people and researched suggested individuals to be included in future naming to fill gaps identified.

Summer 2021

  • Graduate intern Kimberly Jackson synthesized, researched, prepared public-facing summaries and collaborated on potential naming recommendations.
  • BPR staff vetted research and began work on formatting the research to share with the community.

Fall 2021

  • Undergraduate interns worked on an online interactive map format to share with the public.

Spring/Summer 2022

  • Staff and graduate interns finalized the online map for publication and developed communications to share with the community.
Historic East Mapleton Ballfields
Carnegie Library for Local History, Boulder

Photo of what is now East Mapleton Ballfields. Prior to the 1970s, the site was used for rodeos.

Want to learn more about the history of parks in Boulder? Here are some key databases and sources used in this project that you can explore:

Freely accessible online databases:

Other sources of interest:

  • Suzanne Hudson, A History of Boulder’s Parks and Recreation (Or How We Got to be So Pretty)(Boulder, CO: Boulder Parks and Recreation Department, 1990)
  • Silvia Pettem, Boulder: Evolution of a City, revised edition (Boulder, CO: University of Colorado Press, 2006)
  • Silvia Pettem, Boulder: A Sense of Time & Place Revisited (Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2010)
  • Lynn I. Perrigo, A Municipal History of Boulder, 1871-1946 (Boulder, CO: Boulder Public Library Foundation, 1946)
  • Virginia Braddock, Municipal Government History Boulder, Colorado, 1975-1979 (Boulder, CO: Boulder Public Library Foundation, 1986)
  • Virginia Braddock, Municipal Government History Boulder, Colorado, 1980-1984 (Boulder, CO: Boulder Public Library Foundation, 1989)
  • Kelly Jo Nelson, Boulder Municipal Government History, 1985-1990 (Boulder, CO: Boulder Public Library Foundation, n.d.)

City of Boulder Parks and Recreation Department Project Leads

Alison Rhodes

Charlotte O’Donnell

Christy Spielman

CU History Department Project Leads

Kimberly Jackson, PhD Candidate, History, CU Boulder

Paul S. Sutter, Professor, History, CU Boulder

Phoebe S.K. Young, Professor, History, CU Boulder

Graduate Student Researchers

Trevor Egerton

Viola Burlew

Amy Haines

Kim Jackson

Anna Kramer

Alex Lund

Crystal Murphy

Meg Tocci

James Willets

Undergraduate Interns

Joesph Anderson

Madison Crisler

Alexandra Lanzetta

Manuel Menocal-David

Kendra Oklesh

Connor Siruta

Joaquin Ross Tellechea

Rebecca Whiting

Undergraduate Students

Cliff Adamchak

William Bangs

Matteo Bassani

Ben Beavers

Andre Becker

Teddy Bujalski

William Butler

Sydney Calhoun

Carina Carillo-Escobedo

Matthew Copeland

Dylan Dewitt

Lauren Duchene

Gabriel Dupont

Jacob Fine-Thomas

Evan Fleming

Hope Fox

India Gillingham

Bella Grass

Austin Grebe

Ava Gueits

Solomon Guttmann

Daniel Hood

Francesca Iori

Robbie Itzinger

Lauren Jackson

Pedro Jaramillo

Riley Jenkins

Kara Kalafut

Tate Keeney

Ben Kellond

Natalie Kissner

Georgina Lawrie

Darby Logan

Chris McCaffrey

Caeli McCusker

Patrick McSpadden

Will Merriman

Owen Miller

Emma Nickel

Morgan Oliva

Daniel Ongaro

Amadna Payne

Jackson Prescott

Nathan Ripa

Annabelle Rogers

Bianca Rosser

Jake Schultz

James Seaward

Grace Shaver

Sierra Shortt

Connor Siruta

Zachery Smith

Ethan Stanczyk

Maddy Stowell

Joseph Sullivan

Julian Ulrich

Grace Urbanski

Nate Vandiver

Kayla Vasarhelyi

Ryan Vogel

David Vogelstein

Bennett Vonnahme

Sam Aallmer

Peter Wharton

Solomon Williams

Holly Woodbury

Colton Zadkovic

Madeleine Zenir

For questions and comments, please email Charlotte O'Donnell at odonnellc@bouldercolorado.gov.