Garden of the Gods Visitor's Center - CSPM

Garden of the Gods Visitor’s Center

Entrepreneur and philanthropist Lyda Hill credits former Parks Director Nancy Lewis for her boldness and creativity in “making a great deal.” In 1994, Lewis accepted an untested funding source for the Garden of the Gods. Hill proposed to build a visitor’s center outside the park in exchange for concession rights in the park. She was not interested in profit, but in preserving the “crown jewel” of Colorado Springs. The Garden of the Gods Visitor and Nature Center opened in 1995, returning $4.3 million in 25 years towards the protection and maintenance of the Garden of the Gods. We can all be thankful for Nancy Lewis making such a great deal.

– From the CSPM Curator of History

In the early 1990s, City Parks Director Nancy Lewis began working on solutions for Garden of the Gods Park that had fallen into disrepair with outdated facilities, eroding trails, confusing roads and overuse by the ever-increasing number of visitors. The annual Parks budget could not cover all the needs of Garden of the Gods, a two-square mile City Park with more visitors than most National Parks.

Nancy Lewis initiated the 1993 – 1994 Master Plan to tackle all of the Garden’s problems at the same time, a very ambitious undertaking. The 100-plus citizens who regularly attended the 51 public Master Plan meetings thoroughly discussed every issue to come to consensus. Plans for new trails, traffic patterns, reclamation of eroded areas and better maintenance emerged, plus the hope for a new Visitor Center. But how would the City pay for the improvements?

Enter Lyda Hill, a philanthropist and entrepreneur, who fortunately owned the land on the east border of Garden of the Gods. In a 2019 interview, Lyda Hill described meeting Nancy Lewis for the first time, “Nancy and I met when I was hiking in the Garden. I said, ‘We really ought to do something about the Garden. It is not as well maintained as it could be.’ Nancy replied, ‘I am doing the best I can with the money I have.’ Then I said, ‘Oh, okay, let me see if we can come up with something on that.’ ”

“Come up with something on that” is exactly what Lyda and Nancy did. The two visionary women collaborated to create a public/private partnership to build a stunning new Visitor Center on Lyda’s private property and to organize the Garden of the Gods Foundation. Annually, the nonprofit Foundation disburses funds generated by the Center to maintain the Park.

In the 25 years since the Visitor Center opened in 1995, it has hosted 16.7 million visitors, and the Foundation has contributed $4,688,869.01 to the Garden of the Gods Park. During the same time, the Park’s visitation has grown from approximately 1.5 million visitors in 1995 to 5.8 million visitors in 2019. Lyda’s and Nancy’s spectacular achievement of a dedicated, annual funding source has made it possible for the Garden of the Gods to sustain the standards of excellence worthy of the locally, nationally and internationally beloved City Park.

Generously Submitted by Melissa Walker, Naturalist & Interpreter

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