This past Labor Day weekend marked 25 years since my wife and I moved to Colorado Springs. We’ve never regretted it and never considered picking up and moving anywhere else.
Our move here was elective — it wasn’t the only place we investigated when looking to relocate. Our employers didn’t send us here. We didn’t have relatives here. In fact, we knew no one here. What we did know was that Springs was a beautiful town. And those mountains right THERE. You could almost touch them. The skies were blue, the air was clean, the water was clear. How could anyone not want to live here? For a kid from New Jersey who, except for a few trips to Colorado, had only been as far west as Rapid City, Colorado Springs represented everything we could want. Especially for outdoor recreation.
It’s not like we lived in the stereotypical New Jersey (“Which exit did you live near?”)…in fact we lived in a rural, heavily wooded area. But, it was, well, FLAT, humid, and buggy. And so much of it was privately owned that the opportunities for hiking, camping etc., while plenty, were nothing compared to Colorado and the Rocky Mountain west. I didn’t know how much I wanted to live in wide open spaces until I spent four years in Rapid City, courtesy of the Air Force. And I didn’t know how much I would miss those wide open spaces until my discharge and return to New Jersey.
Twenty-five years ago, the population of Colorado Springs was around 280,000. Today, it’s around 416,000. And when you take a second to think about it, it seems kind of odd that I’m writing about the great outdoors while sitting in a town rapidly approaching half a million people. But that’s what makes Colorado Springs and the west so special. On the east coast there aren’t many really big cities, but there are a whole lot of little ones. Shoulder-to-shoulder. One runs into the next, which runs into the next. You often have no idea which town you might actually be in. But here, you have a big city next to miles of almost nothing but wide open spaces.
So while we’ve seen Colorado Springs expand, sprawl and reach its tentacles further and further out, the mountains have remained largely untouched, thanks to their status as national forests. And while the city and El Paso County have grown by leaps and bounds, government officials, and, to an even greater extent, regular citizens, were able to foresee that Colorado Springs could become just another concrete jungle. Today, a development can’t be built in the city or county without a requirement for parks and open spaces and connecting them together with regional parks and trails. Visionary citizens, many still working actively in the community, saw the need to raise funds to purchase land to preserve open spaces and make sure that generations to come have plenty of land for recreation.
The opportunity for regular citizens to be involved in how the city and county governments do business, by way of various advisory boards, commissions and non-profits, is unfathomable to people who live in other parts of the country. Elsewhere, decisions are made by elected officials with little or no input from regular citizens. We don’t do everything perfectly here, but for the most part, we do things very, very well.
In our household, we’ve been (and continue to be) on planning commissions, non-profit boards, and advisory boards. We’ve had the opportunity to provide checks and balances and citizen input to our local governments. It’s a privilege other parts of the country simply do not have.
To the people who say they can’t stand it here, to the people who say it’s too expensive (as if…), to the young adults who say there is nothing to keep them here, I disagree, but I won’t berate you. You’re entitled to your opinions. Take a long, hard look at what Colorado Springs has to offer. Look at it through the eyes of someone who came from somewhere else. Sure, you’ll see things you don’t like, things that need to be fixed. But instead of throwing up your hands and complaining, try to be a force for change. And when you see things you like, be a force to make sure those good things continue and don’t fall by the wayside.
So, on the occasion of passing the 25-year mark in Colorado Springs (still in the same neighborhood we first set foot in), consider this my love letter to Colorado Springs. I recently made the statement that Colorado Springs has the best people anywhere. And I meant it.
Bob Falcone is a retired firefighter, photographer, hiker, college instructor, business owner and author of Hiking Bob's Tips, Tricks and Trails, available via his website. He has lived in Colorado Springs for 25 years. Follow him on Twitter (@hikingbob), Facebook (Hiking Bob), Instagram (@HikingBob_CO) or visit his website (Hikingbob.com). E-mail questions, comments, suggestions, etc to Bob: firstname.lastname@example.org.