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Best of friends



Editor's note: This is the second of two articles focusing on local assets that have been hard hit by city budget cuts.

Colorado Springs always has been known for its natural beauty, nurtured by early visionaries including Gen. William Jackson Palmer. But the passage of time and dwindling funds are taking their toll on parks beloved by locals and tourists alike.

From this year's Give! campaign participants, here are four friends groups who are working to heal the wounds.

Friends of Monument Valley Park

When Palmer founded his dream city in 1871, he knew parks were imperative for quality of life. In 1907, he donated Monument Valley Park, which runs for two miles along Monument Creek northwest of downtown Colorado Springs.

Palmer directed construction of rock walls, bridges, overlooks and other features among its recreation areas and wildlife havens. A 1935 flood decimated many of the structures, but they were repaired and augmented through the Works Progress Administration.

Much of that stonework is crumbling now, endangering safety. The 250-person friends group has secured a State Historical Fund grant for an assessment by a historic-preservation architect and an engineer. When that assessment is done, Give! proceeds will go toward carrying out the repairs.

Board member Judi Ingelido recently witnessed boys skateboarding on the historic Serpentine Wall. The retired educator found a way to turn it into a teaching moment.

"I walked over and said, 'Hey guys, do you know how old these walls are?' They said no. I said, 'Over 100 years old. There's a lot of them here, and they're 55 to about 105 years old.' And I said, 'I'm with a group, and we're trying to keep these walls. I'd really appreciate it if you wouldn't skateboard on them.'

"They said, 'Oh, no, we won't! We're sorry.' I hope they didn't go back afterwards, but when people realize we have something that old here, it makes an impression."

Friends of Cheyenne Cañon

North Cheyenne Cañon, a 1,600-acre park on the city's southwest corner, was founded in 1885 when the city purchased 640 acres there. Again, Palmer showed his vision, donating 480 acres to the existing park in 1907.

Today, park visitors stop by Starsmore Discovery Center at the base of the canyon, and Helen Hunt Falls Visitor Center three miles up. At approximately 130 years old, the latter is showing its age.

"We're just holding it together with Band-Aids," says Fred Adams, the friends group's membership coordinator. "We have to use pushpins to secure trash bags to the ceiling and divert water to buckets every time it rains."

In a familiar lament, the city hasn't had funds to repair or replace the building.

"There are hundreds of thousands of people who come through every year," Adams says, "and this is the spot where people come to get a map, ask directions, ask questions about wildlife. It also serves as a base for interpreters to go out on the trails, and it's the emergency facility for this part of the park."

Plans call for demolition in January, with construction of a new center to begin soon thereafter.

The effort received a huge boost from Mike Bristol of Bristol Brewing Co., whose Community Ale — and local beer drinkers — provided funding for the new building's exterior. A professional crew, plus volunteers, will build that part.

Volunteers and donated materials are needed to finish the interior, which will include interactive displays and a retail area. It's being designed by Amy Galperin of the Bureau of Land Management, who's donating her time and expertise. The new building will be slightly larger than the current one, with an overhang to provide shelter during outdoor programs.

Friends of Garden of the Gods

As board president for two-plus years, John Demmon has overseen the struggle to preserve this world-famous city park.

"It seems to me that the city — both administration and Council — needs to recognize that they cannot rely on nonprofits much longer," Demmon e-mails. "Our volunteers have continued to enjoy their regular volunteer jobs in the Garden of the Gods Visitor and Nature Center, and the first year they rose to the challenge of raising money to cover the city deficit for what they saw as a temporary need."

The group's approximately 200 members devote countless hours to maintaining trails and guiding tourists and local students through the park's 1,326 acres. The group also contributes toward staff salaries, but needs the public's help with that funding.

"I cannot fathom how the city can ignore its premier park," Demmon writes. "I regularly hear visitors tell me the ONLY reason they came to Colorado Springs was to see the Garden of the Gods! That brings tax revenue to the city."

Friends of the El Paso County Nature Centers

Todd Marts is persevering through a financial struggle, too. The county recreation and cultural services manager is responsible for Bear Creek and Fountain Creek nature centers, which suffered cuts to staff and hours in 2010.

Friends group members have donated $90,000 each year to keep the centers open.

Marts says the friends list is up to 1,200. Sixty-four docents volunteer a total of 6,000-plus hours annually, and many others help with gardening, stream clean-ups, noxious weed removal, and trail maintenance.

Give! funds will help expand Fountain Creek Nature Center to meet growing demand from schools.

"Our 2012 vision is to 'not just survive, we will thrive,'" Marts e-mails. "It is time to stop looking back at what we used to have and start looking optimistically at the future."

As the saying goes, the Earth is something we keep in trust for our descendants. That certainly holds true for our parks.

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