Monument Valley Park is a roughly two-mile linear park along Monument Creek in the heart of Colorado Springs. Developed and donated to the city by William Jackson Palmer, the 165-acre park opened in 1907 and has been one of the city’s most popular recreation sites for more than a century. The park is home to a wide variety of trails, playgrounds, playing fields, athletic facilities, and open spaces, and it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2007.
Planning and Construction
When Colorado Springs founder and railroad developer William Jackson Palmer retired from business in 1901, he started to concentrate on giving the city a substantial network of parks and open spaces. One of his major goals was to create a linear park along Monument Creek near downtown, which would provide an attractive entrance for tourists, offer open space for residents, and preserve scenic views.
The idea for a central 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, but it devolved into an overgrown spot full of trash. To help revive the park, in 1886 Palmer donated twelve acres to the Willow Park Association, and adjacent homeowners gave the slopes 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 its stillborn fate showed him 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 by acquiring land, doing surveys, and hiring New York landscape architect Charles W. Leavitt Jr. to draw up a plan. Completed in 1903, Leavitt’s elaborate design included lakes, gardens, and paths as well as athletic and cultural buildings such as a bathhouse, a club house, and an art gallery.
Construction began in 1903, starting near downtown at the southern end of the projected park. Palmer’s construction engineer, Edmond Cornelius van Dienst, oversaw the immense and expensive work. Hundreds of laborers were employed at a cost of up to $15,000 per month. They rechanneled the creek to prevent flooding, built an irrigation system, graded the land, planted trees, and laid out a system of curving paths. The far southeastern corner of the park—closest to downtown—became a formal garden with geometrical flower beds and walkways. Four lakes were constructed farther north, and next to the northernmost lake (now filled in), Van Dienst constructed a column of rocks representing the geologic history of the Pikes Peak region.
Work on the park took more than three years and cost Palmer roughly $750,000. 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, and by 1907 he was ready to donate Monument Valley Park to the city. His gift included a series of detailed provisions: he funded a decade of park maintenance, created an independent commission to oversee the park, and stipulated that the park should not allow alcohol, automobiles, or horses. The city accepted the donation, and by the time of Palmer’s death in 1909, Monument Valley Park was considered one of his finest contributions to Colorado Springs.
At the time of Palmer’s 1907 gift, Leavitt’s plan had been implemented in only the southern quarter of the park. Leavitt’s original design continued to guide development in the rest of the park, but so did donations, evolving patterns of use, 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 but believed it needed more entrances and active recreation opportunities to be of full benefit to citizens.
As a result of Robinson’s ideas and public requests, the Park Commission worked in the 1910s and 1920s to develop the southern half of the park for active recreation, while the northern half was kept in a more natural state. Donations from local businessmen made many of these changes possible. After plans for a pool fell through in 1915, for example, Spencer and Julie Penrose gave $10,000 for a 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, which was built just north of the swimming pool. In 1923 local lawyer W. D. Quackenbush paid for new tennis courts in the park. As the park added new uses, it became more popular with residents who enjoyed going there to picnic, swim, play baseball, or listen to the municipal band.
Despite efforts to control Monument Creek, the park suffered periodic floods in its early decades. But those floods were nothing compared to the raging waters that submerged most of the park on May 31, 1935, leaving a trail of destruction in their 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’s southwestern quadrant survived but suffered damage. The cost of recovery was estimated at $300,000, and the Park Commission briefly considered abandoning the northern two-thirds of the park.
Soon a massive cleanup effort was underway, with Federal Emergency Relief Administration workers, city employees, and even local Boy Scouts helping out. By July, the pool and playgrounds were open, and the city had completed surveys for a realignment of Monument Creek. To fund additional cleanup and flood mitigation, the city turned to a newly created New Deal agency, the Works Progress Administration (WPA). In 1936 the WPA was at work on several large projects in Monument Valley Park, including the construction of a greenhouse and new rustic stone structures in addition to cleanup and creek realignment. New funding authorizations kept hundreds of WPA workers employed in the park until about 1940. The city also secured a loan and grant from the Public Works Administration to reconstruct 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 that spending, soon after the flood the city decided that it could not afford to rebuild the entire park. The city considered abandoning the northern part of the park, but was receptive when Colorado College proposed in July 1935 that it could take over park land adjacent to the college campus. In March 1936 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 have simply tinkered with the design. In 1944 the Park Commission hired landscape architect Saco DeBoer’s firm 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 fifteen years involved renovations or repairs of existing features.
Urban park use declined in Colorado Springs and across the country in the 1960s and 1970s. In Colorado Springs, the city became tempted to use 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 across the park and selling the park’s northern tip. The plan sparked public outcry, and the League of Women Voters and the Springs Area Beautiful Association sued to stop it, citing strict restrictions on land use in Palmer’s original deed. A 1974 court decision upheld the deed, guaranteeing that the park will remain intact or else revert to Palmer’s heirs.
Since that early 1970s threat was defeated, Monument Valley Park has benefited from an increasingly active base of local supporters. For the park’s seventy-fifth anniversary in 1982, a new park volunteer program was started. In 2000, residents formed the nonprofit Friends of Monument Valley Park to survey and improve the park’s features. In 2005 Friends of Monument Valley Park and the Historic Preservation Alliance of Colorado Springs secured a State Historical Fund (SHF) grant to underwrite a successful effort to list the park on the National Register of Historic Places for its centennial anniversary in 2007. In the 2010s the park received additional SHF grants for repairs and preservation work.
Today, Monument Valley Park continues to be one of the most popular parks in Colorado Springs. Easily accessible from downtown, Colorado College, and the Old North End neighborhood, the park also has trail connections to other parks and open spaces throughout the city. It remains an important space in the center of the city where 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.