As part of its land use code update, the town of Norwood outside Telluride, Colo., has partnered with CU Denver’s College of Architecture (CAP) University Technical Assistance (UTA) program to help expand, update, and improve connectivity and safety for its network of parks, trails, and open space.
“We were brought into Norwood some years ago to assist with designing their library and have stayed involved,” says CU Denver Technical Assistance Coordinator Chris Endreson. “The town thought we would be a good fit to create a comprehensive plan of design overlays for their current open space network and look at their park resources and indicate what features, based on community input, could make it a better space for community use.”
Communications between the town and the university began in spring 2021 when travel was still limited by the pandemic. But students have since visited Norwood to conduct field work and have been working to better understand the town land use code and develop preliminary design overlays.
“We’re looking right now at the trail system,” Endreson says. “The town has basically given us an open invite to review everything including designing perimeter, multi-use trails for bikes, walking, and perhaps equestrian purposes. And then moving internally into the town, we’re looking at how to provide connectors to health resources, county resources, schools, and sidewalks which a lot of streets in Norwood currently don’t have.”
The UTA comprehensive plan will enable tourists and locals to get around better on foot or bike and improve access to current park resources, many of which require updating, possibly using nature-inspired playground models.
“The Norwood project is somewhat unique for UTA because we’re doing a piece of a greater land use plan,” Endreson says. “They will cherry pick projects out of our plan to meet their goals and priorities and decide where and when they want to move forward. They’re currently reviewing our preliminary work. Once we get comments back, we will do some presentations and more community outreach to refine the plan.”
Continuing UTA/CU Denver’s Commitment to Community Partnerships in Rural Colorado
The UTA Program is a clinical teaching practice at CU Denver funded by the Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) that has provided design and planning services to rural and small local governments statewide for decades. It affords paid student employees hands-on experience in real-world projects, using multi-disciplinary teams to collaborate with clients and meet community needs through applied research and innovative design.
Other recent projects include helping the town of Dove Creek design a public service center to house their county public works department that included a new, adjacent, senior center, and providing Hayden, Colo., with architectural programming to redevelop a former high school into a community center.
“There are students who have graduated from CU Denver who are currently working in communities where they previously worked with the UTA program and now identify new project ideas they want to partner with us for,” Endreson says. “It’s become a great cycle that continues to turn out new projects to help underserved, rural communities.”
Harnessing Student Creativity and Providing Invaluable Career Experience
Student Hannah Van Der Vorst, currently pursuing a master in landscape architecture who has also applied for a dual major master in urban and regional planning, finds her experience working for the UTA program on projects like Norwood’s invaluable.
As part of a UTA team working on the western side of Colorado, she and her student colleagues are immersed in all aspects of the design process including site inventory analysis, researching town codes, designing websites to communicate project progress, creating technical drawings and graphics, writing final reports, and presenting designs to town residents.
“One of the things that makes this program so beneficial to students is that they get to be in the community, meet with the leadership team, dive into, digest, and present the information needed to create something incredibly meaningful for the community.” Endreson says. “You’re dealing with local interests, a little politics, how the economy and various mentalities around certain components are working, and appropriate ways to conduct yourself in different regions around our state.”
The Norwood student team is working with the town parks and recreation department to re-envision five parcels of land: the community garden, town park, a pocket park on main street, a 19-acre disc golf course, and an open parcel dedicated to the town.
“The town would also like us to design a trail system that connects all the parcels and provides safe routes from Norwood High School, main street, the fairgrounds, and other points of interest,” Van Der Vorst says. “I have mostly been working on the trail system and brainstorming initial ideas with my coworkers who (for this landscape architecture-oriented project) are mostly fellow landscape architecture and urban planning students.”
Van Der Vorst feels grateful for the opportunities to work on community projects that will prepare her for a career in landscape architecture.
“I really like the work,” she says. “Most every town we visit is excited to see us and the designs we have come up with. It’s really rewarding to be able to work in community-focused design and see what our projects do to strengthen communities. I hope I can continue to work in community-focused design after I graduate because of my experience with UTA. UTA has absolutely been the best part of my education at CU Denver thus far.”