Daniels Park (8682 N Daniels Park Rd, Sedalia, CO 80135) is a unit of the Denver Mountain Parks system located in an area of grassy buttes and ravines just west of Castle Pines in Douglas County. First established with a thirty-eight-acre donation from Florence Martin in 1920 and expanded to 1,000 acres with another donation from Martin in 1937, the park is the only prairie park in the mountain parks system as well as the only mountain park in Douglas County. Best known for its bison herd, the park is also home to historic ranch structures, a picnic shelter designed by Jules Jacques Benois Benedict, the site where Kit Carson supposedly made his last campfire, and the Tall Bull Memorial Grounds cultural area.
The land that is now Daniels Park is bisected by a ridge known as Riley Hill, which runs roughly north-south to reach Wildcat Point at an elevation of 6,600 feet. Long before Daniels Park was established, the area’s prominence and clear views made it a popular rendezvous point and route for travelers. In the late 1850s or early 1860s, what is now Daniels Park Road along the ridge was already the path of one of Colorado’s first Territorial Roads. In 1868 noted trapper, scout, and army officer Christopher “Kit” Carson traveled south from Denver over Riley Hill and supposedly made his last campfire at Wildcat Point; he died soon thereafter at Fort Lyon.
Martin Ranch and Mountain Park
When Daniels and Fisher department store owner William Cooke Daniels and his wife, Cicely Banner Daniels, both died suddenly in 1918, they left ownership of the store to their friends Charles MacAllister Willcox, the store’s longtime president, and Florence Martin, an Australian socialite who was a close friend of Cicely Daniels. In 1919 Martin came to Denver and acquired a large ranch south of town—including Riley Hill and Wildcat Point—where she and her sister, Emily, could spend their summers.
In 1920 Martin donated about thirty-eight acres of her ranch at Wildcat Point to the Denver Mountain Parks system, on whose advisory board her friend (and Daniels and Fisher co-owner) Charles Willcox served. Martin stipulated that the new park should be named in honor of William and Cicely Daniels. By 1922 the city built several campfire sites and a rustic stone shelter designed by Denver architect Jules Jacques Benois Benedict. In 1923 the Territorial Daughters added a memorial marking Kit Carson’s last campfire. Because of its great views of the Front Range stretching from Pikes Peak to Longs Peak, the small park became a popular spot for Denver residents to enjoy picnics and watch the sunset.
Meanwhile, in the early 1920s, Martin built her own house and other ranch facilities on a butte extending southwest from Riley Hill about a mile north of Wildcat Point. Closest to Riley Hill was the ranch manager’s area, with a two-story wood-frame house, a two-story chicken coop, and a dairy barn with a gambrel roof and tongue-and-groove wood siding. Farther out on the butte was the ranch foreman’s area, which also had a wood-frame house and chicken coop as well as a bunk house, horse barn, and two-story workshop. At the very end of the butte, with expansive views of the Front Range, sat Martin’s house and an octagonal wood-frame picnic pavilion.
In 1937 a fire destroyed Martin’s ranch house. Instead of rebuilding, she donated 962 acres to Denver to expand Daniels Park to roughly 1,000 acres. The former ranch buildings became home to park maintenance workers and equipment. A year later, the enlarged park became home to Denver’s second bison herd after the existing herd at Genesee Park grew so large that it had to be split. About twenty bison were relocated to Daniels Park, where about 800 acres of parkland were set aside for them to roam.
In the 1970s, a Cheyenne Indian named Richard Tall Bull started to push for a place where Denver’s Native American community could come together for ceremonies and celebrations. He picked a seventy-acre site at the northern edge of Daniels Park, and in 1977 Denver agreed to grant exclusive use of the land—called the Tall Bull Memorial Grounds—to a consortium of local Indian groups later known as the Tall Bull Memorial Council. In 1997 Mayor Wellington Webb extended the agreement for another twenty-five years. For most of the year the Tall Bull Memorial Grounds is open only to Native Americans, but on Labor Day Weekend the Tall Bull Memorial Council hosts a powwow that is open to the public.
Daniels Park was once in the middle of open plains, buttes, and ravines, but since the 1980s it has been abutted to the east by development in nearby Castle Pines. The park’s views west to the mountains, however, remain unimpeded. In 1995 the park was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Today it forms part of a 12,000-acre open space that is bounded by Castle Pines on the east, Highlands Ranch on the north, and US 85 on the west and south. In addition to Daniels Park, the open space includes Highlands Ranch Backcountry Wilderness and Cherokee Ranch.
By the late 1990s, as nearby development resulted in more traffic in and around Daniels Park, Denver (which owns the park) and Douglas County (which maintains Daniels Park Road) started working together to implement a variety of park and road improvements. In 2006 Daniels Park received a State Historical Fund grant of more than $80,000 to restore the exterior of the historic Martin Ranch barn. In 2007 a master plan for the park was completed, and in 2008–9 Douglas County performed the first phase of improvements to Daniels Park Road. A new trail and trailhead opened in 2014, and construction of more trails, parking lots, and buffalo-viewing areas continued in 2015. The final round of improvements in the more than $3.5 million project—including paving and rerouting Daniels Park Road and building a trail parallel to the road—is slated for completion in 2017–18.