Monument Valley Park is a two-mile park along Monument Creek in the heart of Colorado Springs. William Jackson Palmer developed and donated it to the city in 1907. The 165-acre park has been one of the city’s most popular recreation sites for more than a century. The park is home to a variety of trails, playgrounds, playing fields, athletic facilities, and open spaces. It was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2007.
Planning and Construction
William Jackson Palmer was a railroad developer who founded the city of Colorado Springs in 1871. When he retired from business in 1901, he focused on developing a network of parks and open spaces for the city. One of his major goals was to create a park along Monument Creek near downtown. It would provide an attractive entrance for tourists, offer open space for residents, and preserve scenic views.
The idea for a park along Monument Creek was not new, but all previous efforts had stalled. Sometime before 1882, Willow Park had been established at a bend in Monument Creek just north of downtown. It had become an overgrown spot that was full of trash. In 1886, to help revive the park, Palmer donated twelve acres to the Willow Park Association. The nearby homeowners gave the land below their yards to the park. Despite these gifts, however, the city did little to develop the park.
Palmer saw Willow Park’s potential, but he realized that building a real park along Monument Creek would be a costly and time-consuming task. Nevertheless, he committed himself to the project in the early 1900s. He acquired land, funded surveys, and hired New York landscape architect Charles W. Leavitt, Jr. to draw up a plan.
Leavitt’s plan was completed in 1903. The elaborate design included lakes, gardens, and paths as well as athletic and cultural buildings such as a bathhouse, a clubhouse, and an art gallery.
Construction began in 1903 at the southern end of the projected park. Palmer’s construction engineer, Edmond Cornelius Van Dienst, was hired to oversee the huge project. Hundreds of laborers were employed at a cost of up to $15,000 per month. They rechanneled the creek to prevent flooding and built an irrigation system. They graded the land, planted trees, and laid out a system of curving paths. The southeastern corner of the park became a formal garden with geometrical flowerbeds and walkways. Four lakes were constructed farther north. Next to one lake (now filled in), Van Dienst created a column of rocks representing the geologic history of the Pikes Peak region.
In October 1906, toward the end of the project, Palmer was paralyzed in a horse riding accident. He continued to keep up with the park’s progress after his injury. Work on the park took more than three years and cost Palmer roughly $750,000.
By 1907 Palmer donated Monument Valley Park to the city of Colorado Springs. His gift included a series of detailed provisions. He funded a decade of park maintenance and created an independent commission to oversee the park. He specified that the park could not allow alcohol, automobiles, or horses. The city accepted the donation. By the time of Palmer’s death in 1909, Monument Valley Park was considered one of his finest contributions to Colorado Springs.
When the park was donated, Leavitt’s landscape plan had been constructed in the southern part of the park. As time went on, his original design continued to guide development in the rest of the park. But some of the design changed because of evolving needs and new planners.
In 1912, for example, Charles Mulford Robinson prepared a comprehensive plan for Colorado Springs. He saw Monument Valley Park as a tremendous asset for the city. He believed it needed more entrances and active recreation sites to serve the community. As a result of Robinson’s ideas, the Park Commission continued to develop the park in the 1910s and 1920s. The southern portion of the park was to be used for active recreation, while the northern part was kept in a natural state.
Donations from local businesses made many of these changes possible. Spencer and Julie Penrose gave $10,000 for a swimming pool and Mediterranean-style bathhouse that opened in June 1916. Two months later, Ethel Carlton donated funds for a Classical Revival bandstand designed by the architects MacLaren and Thomas. It was built just north of the swimming pool. In 1923 local lawyer W. D. Quackenbush paid for tennis courts in the park. As the park added new uses, it became more popular with the community. People enjoyed going to the park to picnic, swim, play baseball, or listen to the municipal band.
Despite efforts to control Monument Creek, the park suffered from floods in its early decades. But those floods were nothing compared to the raging waters that submerged the park on May 31, 1935. The flood left a trail of destruction in its wake. Some parts of the park washed away, others were caked in silt, and trees were ripped from the ground and heaped in piles as if they were twigs. The athletic facilities in the park survived but suffered damage. The cost of recovery was estimated at $300,000 and the Park Commission considered abandoning the northern two-thirds of the park.
Soon a massive cleanup effort was underway. Federal Emergency Relief Administration workers, city employees, and even local Boy Scouts helped out. By July, the pool and playgrounds were open, and the city had plans to realign Monument Creek. The city turned to a newly created New Deal agency, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) for additional cleanup and flood mitigation. In 1936 the WPA was at work on several large projects in Monument Valley Park. These included the construction of a greenhouse and new rustic stone buildings, in addition to cleanup and creek realignment. The projects kept hundreds of WPA workers employed in the park until about 1940. The city also got a grant from the Public Works Administration to construct new bridges over the newly widened creek. In all, almost $1.2 million in federal and local funding was spent to help the park recover from the 1935 flood.
Despite all these resources spent on the park, the city decided that it could not afford to rebuild the entire park. The city considered abandoning the northern part of the park. In 1936, Colorado College offered to take over the parkland that was next to the college campus. The city council approved the transfer of four acres to the college, which used the land for athletic fields.
Since Monument Valley Park was rebuilt after the 1935 flood, most changes been small. In 1944 the Park Commission hired landscape architect Saco DeBoer to put together a new plan for the park, but most of the recommendations were never implemented. Instead, most work at the park in the next decades involved renovations or repairs of existing features.
In the 1960s and 1970s, urban park use declined in Colorado Springs and across the country. In Colorado Springs, the city considered using centrally located Monument Valley Park land for other purposes. In 1960 the city took over some park land for a service center. Then, in the early 1970s, the city considered extending Fontanero Street through the park and selling the park’s northern tip.
The plan sparked public outcry. The League of Women Voters and the Springs Area Beautiful Association sued to stop it. In court, they cited the strict restrictions on the use of the park in Palmer’s original deed. The 1974 court decision upheld the deed, guaranteeing that the park would remain unchanged or else revert to Palmer’s heirs.
Since then, Monument Valley Park has benefited from an active base of local supporters. For the park’s seventy-fifth anniversary in 1982, a new volunteer program was started. In 2000 the nonprofit Friends of Monument Valley Park was formed to survey and improve the park.
In 2005 Friends of Monument Valley Park and the Historic Preservation Alliance of Colorado Springs received a State Historical Fund grant. This grant allowed the park to be placed in the National Register of Historic Places. This designation was celebrated on the park’s 100th year anniversary in 2007. In the 2010s, the park received additional grants for repairs and preservation work.
Today, Monument Valley Park continues to be one of the most popular parks in Colorado Springs. It is easily accessible from downtown, Colorado College, and the Old North End neighborhood. The park also has trail connections to other parks and open spaces. It remains an important space in the center of the city. Residents and visitors can run, walk, bike, or swim; play baseball, soccer, tennis, or pickleball; or simply enjoy views of Monument Creek and Pikes Peak.