BEYOND KID STUFF: Tollgate offers an outdoor space for more rugged recreation

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AURORA | After more than 10 months of being asked to stay indoors and limit contact with others, residents of south Aurora have a new spot to stretch their legs, or put them to the test.

City officials quietly cut the proverbial ribbon on Tollgate Crossing Neighborhood Park in far southeast Aurora late last year, opening a new slate of souped-up amenities just beyond the boundary of E-470.

The park features picnic spots, pickleball and tennis courts and a bevy of equipment designed in the style of the reality television competition “American Ninja Warrior.” The latter elements are believed to be the first of their kind at any public park in the metro area, according to Katie Thompson, a senior landscape architect with the city who designed the new outdoor hub.

Thompson worked with Richdell Construction and construction manager Zach Nover to bring the project to fruition.

Thompson, who’s been an architect with the city for more than a decade, said the new haunt was crafted with older children and adults in mind. A smaller playground at nearby Buffalo Trail Elementary school generally fills the needs of younger park users, but residents who participated in community input meetings intended to influence park design signaled support for more mature outdoor offerings, according to Thompson.

“They wanted a park that addressed the needs of older kids and adults,” she said.

The city’s art in public places program also convened to commission a new piece of art at the park from local artist Lisa Cameron Russell entitled “Nature’s Tollgate.”

All told the park ran nearly $1.5 million, though developer fees and county grants partially offset that cost, according to city documents. The project took nearly two years to complete, Thompson said.

And with its completion comes a sorely needed recreational hub in one of the newest and most remote portions of the city, according to Councilperson Francoise Bergan, who represents the ward in which the new green space sits.

“It’s nice that in our newer communities we finally see this completed and brought to fruition,” Bergan said. “ … I think we’re finally feeling like we’re going to have some recreational amenities for our residents to enjoy.”

Prior to the park softly opening in November, there were no parks within a 10 minute walk for nearly 2,000 residents in the southeast portion of Tollgate Crossing, according to data provided by Thompson. Across the entire Tollgate Crossing neighborhood, there were no outdoor facilities for teens or adults.

“That’s why this became such a priority,” Thompson said.

Bergan underscored that the new park will be only a proverbial tennis ball’s bounce from the forthcoming Southeast Recreation Center, which is slated to be home to a pool, community classrooms and, yes, even more pickleball courts. Developers are expected to begin turning dirt on that project next month, with plans to open the doors on the new facility sometime in the first half of 2023.

In the nearer future, the city’s Parks, Recreation and Open Space department is planning additional renovations at a trio of Aurora green spaces in 2021. Hoffman Park, McMullen Park and Canterbury Park are all slated for playground renovations in the coming months, according to Tracy Young, manager of planning, design and construction for the city.

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