Concrete in the Park Creates a Classic Colorado Play Space

Color hardener, Lithomosaics, Sandscape walls, stamped concrete, and artisan rocks were all included.


“Imagine the possibilities” has been Colorado Hardscapes’ tag line for years. The reason is being the amazing and unlimited ways concrete can be used. Whether it is shaped, sculpted, blasted, texturized, colorized, polished, stained, dyed … the list goes on. In other words, if you can dream it, we can do it; and if we can’t, we’ll figure it out. These possibilities truly came to life when we worked to add concrete in the park with these unique play spaces.

This specific park shows the possibilities of putting concrete in parks better than any other. Colorado Hardscapes was invited to join DHM Design and ECI Site Construction Management to deliver the innovative concrete elements at Johnson Habitat Park. We could tell from the start it was going to be fun! Designed and built for the City and County of Denver, Johnson Habitat Park sits along the South Platte River in Denver. Just south of downtown it sits on a site that was previously a landfill. Reclaiming the site as a unique outdoor learning center, the improvements came as one stage in the City’s River Vision Implementation Plan. This stage received funding in part by a GOCO River Corridor Initiative grant.

Let’s look at some of the amazing concrete elements Colorado Hardscapes helped create at this interactive, experiential landscape built to be classically Colorado.

Hollow Trees: 

This section of the park uses concrete to recreate a realistic version of the base of a large Cottonwood tree. Similar to the real ones along the river’s edge. Using shotcrete, Colorado Hardscapes created a life-like structure that allows children freedom of movement through, over, and around the stumps. All while meeting safe play guidelines on heights and fall zones. 

Hallowed out tree made from concrete
Using texture mats and hand staining the bark looks to real on this tree stump that it’s hard to believe it’s built out of concrete.

Log Steppers: 

Unlike the custom Cottonwood Tree, log steppers are orderable from a product catalog, if desired. However, once DHM Design and ECI understood Colorado Hardscapes’ capabilities to create the custom Cottonwood Tree piece they revisited creating the log steppers onsite. A material and labor analysis revealed it made sense to design and built these custom elements locally as well.

vertical concrete stumps nested with natural drift wood.
Can you tell which tree branches or stumps are natural versus those built out of concrete?

Large Boulders: 

The large shotcrete boulders on the site are both practical and purposeful. Set against the west-edge of the site, the boulders provide a windbreak around the open grass area. Additionally, they create a visual transition out of the park to the neighborhood beyond. Colorado Hardscapes studied examples of local geomorphology in several sections along the Platte River to inspire the development of these realistic renditions.

large concrete boulders create a play space in the park
These large concrete boulders are built using a shotcrete technique.

The Compass Rose: 

DHM Design’s plan for the Compass Rose incorporated ten different colors or textures in the finished concrete. Done typically, this would be difficult, expensive, and time-consuming to build. More importantly, pouring each of the ten panels independently would significantly weaken the overall result, likely leading to cracking, and eventually early deterioration. Colorado Hardscapes tackled this challenge by developing a plan to pour the base layer of concrete for the entire layout. Then colorize the surface of each panel with a color hardener before it cured. The color hardener also makes a great imprint surface for the different textures and contributed to an ultra-durable surface with long-lasting appeal.

Compass rose created out of different concrete textures, colors and style create public art in the parks
The compass rose at Johnson Habitat Park shows a complex amount of different concrete applications in one single piece of public art.

Flower Plaza: 

Vibrant color in concrete is not easy to achieve and can be costly without the right resources. To achieve DHM Design’s desired bright colors of purple, red, and yellow in the flower plaza, Colorado Hardscapes had custom color hardeners made specifically.

Red and Yellow flowers made with concrete and color hardener
At Johnson Habitat Park these concrete flowers utilized color hardener to achieve the bright red and yellow in the petals.

At Colorado Hardscapes, developing highly creative, beautifully detailed, artistically challenging, and fun finished pieces like these ones always puts a smile on everyone’s face. This job, completed in 2015, has become one of our favorite’s over the years for these very reasons. If you would like to look at additional pictures of this job click here to see the job profile.

Feeling Inspired? Want to get creative? We would love to show you around our Design Center and all the possibilities available for your next concrete in parks project. Give us a call to schedule time looking at samples in our showroom.