Unsanctioned users of Denver Parks
GROUP SIZE: Indeterminate due to the transitory nature of the individuals
NATURE OF GROUP: hobos, recreational binge drinkers, graffiti taggers, and off-leash dog-walkers.
INCIDENCE OF SOCIOMETRY: West Denver Urban Preserve and Trail

This report was originally published on 2 tri-fold displays at Sociometry Fair 2008 in Chicago. 



Four Years after conducting the above preliminary research, is agents activated WeDUPT in a radically changed environment.

WeDUPT All Images 

The entrance to WeDUPT has since been closed to sanctioned users (leash-walkers, outfit-bikers, stroller-joggers). To access the trail register and guide one must start by transgressing a barrier between sanctioned and unsanctioned use of the corridor. The necessity of hikers to cross a literal and metaphoric threshold at the outset of their journey is a seeming victory in the effort to raise awareness of, and increase habitat for, unsanctioned users.

Generally however, the interim four years have seen a wholesale assault on unsanctioned use habitat. A vast tract of section four, The Preserve, was clear cut to make way for sanctioned users. This encroachment cuts deep into an area that in 2004 was ideal habitat for hobos and served as the gateway to a large and now threatened encampment.

before and after 2004 left : 2008 right

West Denver gentrification, flood control infrastructure development and construction in the corridor on a west suburbs light-rail line all highlighted the need for incorporation of WeDUPT.

A trail register, trail guides, and breakaway fiberglass trail markers and a corresponding iconographic decal system were professionally manufactured. Decals deploy a standard slash no-slash system of Forest Service trail markers but incorporate icons appropriate to an urban environment; a tag, a crapping dog, a wino, a cop.


The morning after instal, this agent arrived at the trail-marker for section three prior to 9am. Scores of eager citizens were out vigorously clearing brush! A Parks and Rec crew with a mulcher truck was ingesting it. When approached a young couple explained,

is: “Are you all volunteering or something?”
both: “Yes!”
is: “Why clear all this brush?”
he: “They found a BODY in here! Or something… That’s what I heard.”
she: “Its National Trails Day!”

The trail marker for section three remained in place, lightly buried into soft soil. Citizens swarmed around it vigorously manicuring the park. An adjacent crew, in keeping with WeDUPT’s strict no tagging zone in section three, was painting out graffiti in hunter green – perfectly matched to WeDUPT’s marker.

Back at section one, a small cadre of Hispanic teens were walking along the flood diversion trench passing a joint. As they came across this agent making an entry into the trail register, all pointed at the detourned green newspaper box. Sputtered laughs and “oh shits” were punctuated with a flash of the hand, center fingers crossed – “WEST SIDE!”

At the start of section two a breakaway group of citizens, multicultural tweens with an adult chaperone, walked along the creek banks with trash bags picking up litter. A Hispanic girl in painted on pants looked at the trail marker for section two and proudly poked her friend, “Look! West Side!”


One could argue that the lack of citizen reaction to the marker in section three pointed to a failure. They didn’t see the marker because its aesthetic blended too closely into what was expected in the space. Unlike the tags the section three sign did not read as unsanctioned art. The section one trail register, however, was clearly communicative as unsanctioned as acknowledged by the West Side teens and their stoned camaraderie.

This leads is to believe that the context in which the signs are encountered by the individual frames their legitimacy. The section three trail marker decals conformed to preliminary research showing the area is not advisable for unsanctioned use due to its open terrain and adjacent playgrounds. Citizens engaged in sanctioned use (busy-bodied-volunteerism) encountered a sign reinforcing their agenda; no camping, no drinking, no tagging, no dog crap! In section one the unsanctioned teens recognized a subversive nature in the signs and respond in kind. They saw it as a tag and gave it a shout out. The girl in section two also was drawn to the west side emblem but due to her sanctioned use of the space saw it with a non-ironic sense of civic pride.

The section one trail register was the first item to disappear. Section three’s trail marker followed shortly. Section two lasted a couple weeks. The Preserve’s trail marker lasted over a month. Six months later all trace of WeDUPT is gone. Its hard to say if the signs were removed by Parks and Rec or by unsanctioned art collectors.

The signs transcendental ability to serve as a guide to sanctioned and unsanctioned users in the corridor proves that these two groups can coexist in the space without the need to threaten vital unsanctioned use habitat.

To maintain awareness of this issue is plans a second annual instal and trail walk for National Trails Day 2012.

Continue reading about the 2012 iteration of WEDUPT.

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