What led the Perkins Family to donate the Garden’s original 480 acres to the City of Colorado Springs? The answer is found in stories of friendship and of children fulfilling their father’s dream. In 1879, our City’s founder General William Jackson Palmer convinced his friend Charles Perkins to buy 480 acres of red rock spires known as the Garden of the Gods. A few years later, Perkins put into writing his intention to donate the Garden to the City, influenced by Palmer who had already donated over 1,000 acres of parkland.
Unfortunately, Perkins died before he had arranged for the Garden to become a public park. But Perkins’s four daughters and two sons, honoring their father’s wish, deeded the land of vertical red rocks to the City with the stipulation that it would remain “a free and public park forever.”
General Palmer and the Perkins Family were not the first to recognize that the Garden of the Gods should be a public park. Almost forgotten in our local history is that 23 years before the Garden became a City Park, it almost became our country’s second National Park. (Yellowstone was first.)
In 1886, a bill was introduced in the U.S. Congress proposing the Garden as a National Park to “protect the Garden of the Gods from spoilation.” However, the bill was defeated because too much land was privately owned within the proposed park boundary that would have included the Garden of the Gods, Manitou Springs, Cripple Creek and Pikes Peak with all its surrounding mountains and canyons.
However, the Garden of the Gods has been designated as a National Natural Landmark (1971) and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places (1979). In the National Landmark documents, the Garden is described as “the most striking contrast between plains and mountains in North America, with respect to biology, geology, climate and scenery.” The Park is a continental crossroads where native plants and animals converge from the grasslands of the Great Plains, the evergreen forests of the Rocky Mountains and the dry deserts of the American Southwest.
The Garden also holds many reminders of the region’s human history—ancient hearths, the centuries-old trail of the Nuu-ciu (Ute) American Indians and rock signatures of gold-seekers. Included within the Garden’s boundary is Rock Ledge Ranch Historic Site. This 230-acre site was placed on the National Register for Historic Places for its interpretation and restoration of historic buildings that tell the story of this region from the late 1700s to the early 1900s.
The daunting challenge for today’s and future citizens is to preserve the extraordinary Garden of the Gods Park. If each generation takes good care of the gift of the Garden of the Gods, then citizens and visitors from around the world will continue to enjoy the spectacular Park, and contemplate the beauty of its timeless views—red rocks etched against a bright blue sky with snow-capped Pikes Peak glistening in the distance.
Generously Submitted by Melissa Walker, Naturalist & Interpreter