Written by Project Superintendent Carl Hiebsch
The Arkansas River has been an integral part of the City of Derby since the city’s beginnings. Many different groups of people enjoyed the river in a variety of ways over the years. But, for the general public and to the handicap, access to the river was not easy with very few actual planned points of entry. In 2000, a new bridge was erected over the river and the old bridge was removed. A new small but dangerous place to access the river became available. This was located in what is now the south edge of the park. The rest of the park over the years had had a Police training facility, city office buildings, sewer plant, street maintenance storage area, and trash dump. The City of Derby offices, facility, and maintenance yard was vacated, demolished and removed. This left roughly 4.6 acres next to the Arkansas river available. The Derby planners had what they wanted. With the leadership of SJCF Architecture, and private seed money from the Warren family, The City of Derby Warren Riverview Park was ready to go. A plan to make the river easily and safely accessible to the general public was created.
In May of 2017, Snodgrass & Sons was awarded the contract to take this cleared 4.6 acres and to transform it into The City of Derby Warren Riverview Park. The project lasted roughly 17 months and in October of 2018 the park was opened. There were many challenges to make the project work. The original site had a 21 foot elevation change in about 30 feet. Enough dirt had to be moved to change this an ADA slope. Roughly 16,000 cu yards of soil needed to be moved. Another 300 yards of concrete footings, asphalt, and trash was taken out of the area. The riverbank was heavy with trees, and other vegetation. Once the soil was close to the right elevation ten foot pilings were driven into the riverbank and capped with a two foot by two foot concrete bulkhead to stop erosion of the river bank. This whole process was a particular challenge once we were close to the river level for two reasons. One, a truck could disappear into the sugar sand of the river bed if it was to get too close. And two the river wanted to flood or wash away all our efforts with no remorse. Anytime a footing was excavated the water would rush in. The dewatering measures had to be going at all times.
Working through this challenge a “boat ramp”, and amphitheater area was put in with concrete. A river walk area was placed that follows the riverbank for two thirds of the park’s banks. These items were placed tight to the wall cap of the pilings to help seal the bank from the river. An existing seasonal creek bed was moved north a bit, reshaped, and made into a natural awe inspiring bio-swell. A beautiful foot bridge was place over this creek, with a wonderful view. Just above the boat ramp are some permanent park benches and a smooth grassy area ideal for an afternoon. Looking down over the amphitheater is a five tiered natural Kansas limestone seating area. The limestone was brought down from the Manhattan region of Kansas. These five serpentine three foot walls of limestone look as if they have always been there. It is a beautiful way to bring the riverbank up the sixteen feet of elevation change. A discreetly lighted Grand Staircase travels up the middle of this tiered area to allow quick access to each level, and the amphitheater. Twelve hand rails with locally designed laser cut inserts provide beauty and safety for these stairs.
There are multiple uses located in this park. A central goal encompassing the whole park is that all areas are handicap accessible including the actual water of the river. An ADA ramp and sidewalk are in place from the parking to the river and every other area. A sidewalk graces the river’s edge making walking along the river a pleasurable experience. A natural amphitheater that can seat 400 is next to the river also. The “stage area” has the ability to have power and mics. The featured attraction can have their sound on speakers throughout the park if needed.
A brand new lodge dramatically overlooks the river. From its windows the down river view is breath taking. A large patio outside the lodge brings you right up to the rivers edge from a vantage of 18 feet above the river. The lodge also houses 24 hour accessible ADA restrooms. The rough Douglass Fir and limestone lodge is available to be rented by the public. The main room has a remote controlled limestone gas fireplace, high arched natural Douglas Fir ceiling, with dimmable lighting, large windows and glass doors, and a small kitchenet. If needed the sound in the Lodge can have the sound on speakers throughout the park. A variety of devices can be used to have the sound inside the lodge only or throughout the park with the hook ups in the lodge.
The park includes a concrete floored covered picnic area big enough for two large gatherings. The covered area are three Douglas Fir rustic post and beam structures that provide a scenic peaceful setting for a gathering. This is adjacent to a large playground area. There is a variety of playground equipment in the playground area that has safety and fun as the base of its planning. Families could spend an afternoon there comfortably with out wanting the time to end.
There is a beautiful foot bridge to enjoy, a council ring fire pit area, and large open grass areas for sports or gatherings, kite flying, or camping. Plenty of safe well lighted parking is provided. Twenty six species of trees are on the grounds. Many small plants, and wild flowers in season are throughout the park.
The number of activities a person, family, or organization can be surrounded with in such a beautiful setting is unique to this area. The City of Derby, SJCF Architecture, and Snodgrass Construction were recognized with a state award. The City of Derby, and SJCF Architecture was given a national award for small towns. A national magazine had a feature story of the park and the vision of the city. The City of Derby has a short video of the park on its website. Its is a beautiful, multifaceted place to visit. Please, come on down.