City parks have always been integral to Colorado Springs. Central to General Palmer’s vision was the establishment of an interconnected park system. The Colorado Springs Company donated land for Acacia, Alamo, and Antlers Parks after the city’s founding, and Palmer donated thousands of additional acres for more parks such as North Cheyenne Canyon, Palmer Park, and what he saw as most important, Monument Valley Park.
In 1907 he created an independent Parks Commission to manage public parks, and by 1910 the City Council had created a Department of Forestry with a city forester. In 1909, Charles Perkins donated the Garden of the Gods to the city, adding to the reputation for magnificent parklands that the Gazette said were “famous the world over.”
The city outgrew the ability of a volunteer body to administer its parks, so on April 1, 1947, the Parks Commission charter was repealed and the city Department of Parks and Recreation was created. One of its first initiatives was to expand the land holdings around Prospect Lake and create Memorial Park in 1948.
The number of city parks grew greatly after the 1960s and the Parks Department emphasized recreational opportunities. Whereas the city had long relied on wealthy benefactors to donate land for parks, a 1973 ordinance required developers to set aside land for parks, ensuring that growth in parks would to some degree meet the growth in population. The first parks master plan for the city was produced in 1976.
In 1980 the state began using lottery funds to purchase parkland, and this was strengthened in 1992 with the creation of the Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) program and by local taxpayers approving the Trails and Open Space sales tax in 1997. Despite these funding sources, the Parks and Recreation Department has suffered reduced personnel and budget, especially after the economic crisis of 2008.
Today city parks increasingly rely on volunteers. Despite being underfunded, dedicated citizens have worked to ensure that the city’s parks, trails, and open spaces remain vital and serve the public good. The contemporary Department of Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Services administers over 9,000 acres of parkland and over 500 acres of trails, plus sports complexes and education centers, including the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum.
As former Department Director Nancy Lewis stated in her book The Parks of Colorado Springs, parks remain integral to the community’s identity.
Generously Submitted by Dr. John Harner, Professor of Geography & Environmental Studies, University of Colorado, Colorado Springs