On November 19, 2020, downtown Denver, Colorado’s largest mixed-used redevelopment, The River Mile, tapped S2O Design and Engineering to lead a signature component of this complex, dynamic restoration of the heralded South Platte River.
Spearheaded by developer Revesco Properties, this one-of-a-kind neighborhood—comprising 62 acres and ultimately up to 15 million square feet of commercial and residential property—will reconnect the city to its iconic urban waterway, improving riparian and aquatic habitat, flood control, and recreation access.
“With $80 million in federal matching funds, river restoration is the project’s fundamental purpose, and it will be one of the most significant river restorations ever undertaken by a private enterprise, anywhere,” says Gregory V. Murphy, president of Calibre Engineering, The River Mile’s civil engineer. “S2O is helping us develop a design solution that’s in alignment with all the stakeholders’ interests.”
Since 1860, the South Platte River has been highly impacted by urban development. In a major commitment by the developer, in partnership with the City of Denver, the Greenway Foundation, and other environmental experts, the project’s goal is to return the river to a more natural state ecologically and physically.
The effort will incorporate sustainability, aquatic and riparian habitat enhancements, and flood control along a more than 1-mile-long stretch of this valuable waterway. The project will also improve recreational access via a trail system leading to new fishing and paddling features. The restoration will add 27 acres of riverside parks and open spaces while energizing this new downtown neighborhood.
A leader in river restoration and urban redevelopment, S20 Design brings a unique expertise in integrating recreation into river restoration efforts. Led by engineer and three-time Olympian Scott Shipley, S2O Design has designed and engineered a variety of highly successful in-stream recreation projects, and has served as lead designer of some of the world’s most high-profile whitewater recreation and competition venues.
“We are honored to work with such a talented team in restoring and revitalizing this vital natural resource for Denver,” says Shipley. “We are working with some of the early visionaries in urban floodway restoration including the Greenway Foundation and the Mile-High Flood District. This project will set a new standard in how to approach and realize environmental and flood enhancements while also prioritizing human interaction with the river for recreation and relaxation.”
Restoration efforts will improve this section of the river’s in-stream habitat and its riparian and wetland corridor, with fish benefitting from a fully connected habitat throughout the reach and the removal of thousands of tons of silt and sand. The team will replace the existing floodway configuration with a more natural restoration that will create a narrower, deeper low-flow channel. It will also aid in moving sediment better, which helps prevent flooding, but will also provide cooler water for fish habitat and the opportunity for a multi-stage channel with a vibrant riparian zone.
“S2O Design brings the technical expertise with hydraulic modeling, stream restoration, and recreation design needed to make this project a success,” says Heather Houston, President and Senior Ecologist at Birch Ecology. “They have done a great job of listening and facilitating conversations to realize a successful outcome.”
In the past two years, S20 Design has completed in-channel river parks on the Poudre River in Fort Collins, Colorado; the Arkansas River in Canon City, Colorado; the Eagle River in Eagle, Colorado; and the Boise Whitewater Park in Boise, Idaho.
All images courtesy of S2O Design and Engineering.