Three years before he died, Gen. William Jackson Palmer, founder of Colorado Springs, donated his personal greenhouse to Monument Valley Park in the hopes of fulfilling his dream to grow and plant flowers there. One year later, after Palmer donated the park, the city of Colorado Springs established a flower program and the first Lilac Festival was born.
Gen. Palmer had an elaborate vision for Colorado Springs, and Monument Valley Park was, in many ways, the headstone of that vision. His Colorado Springs was to be a genteel community lined with parks, a Western oasis of green.
A real-estate man, Palmer knew the value of first impressions and built Monument Valley Park as the grand entrance to his oasis. Indeed, the park's original 166 acres lined the final two miles of the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad coming into Colorado Springs and the park's southern terminus bordered on the train station.
By the time Palmer gave Monument Valley Park to the city in 1907, he had spent nearly $500,000 dollars of his personal fortune building the city's new gateway. In return, he asked only that Monument Valley Park be closed to "all kinds of conveyances except invalid chairs, baby carriages, and bicycles propelled by human beings." The only exception was to be the annual Lilac Festival -- the springtime celebration of flowers about which Palmer had dreamed and for which he had given his beloved greenhouse.
During Lilac Festival, he proposed, the people of Colorado Springs could drive their carriages through the park and marvel at his blooming vision.
Until the Memorial Day flood of 1935, Palmer's dream remained intact. The flood, however, destroyed much of Monument Valley Park and the Lilac Festival was discontinued. For 66 years thereafter, Lilac Day lay dormant -- a nearly forgotten part of the city's heritage.
Now, through the inspiration of a group called Friends of Monument Valley Park, Lilac Day has been revived. Three years ago, Friends of Monument Valley Park reinstated the tradition of planting lilacs in the park.
"In a sense," said Mary Rochette, committee member, "this is a continuation of Palmer's idea."
The first lilacs were planted in May 2001. But, in a twist of meteorological irony, the drought now plaguing Colorado has since prevented Friends of Monument Valley Park from planting more lilacs. Instead, they have turned their efforts into maintaining and cleaning up the park.
Again this year, in lieu of lilacs, the group will gather to clean up the park, an invaluable service at a time when the Parks Department budget has been slashed.
"The city needs this help," said Rochette. "These parks are a part of the city's heritage. ...That means loving them, maintaining them and using them."
This year's Lilac Day/park cleanup will take place Saturday, May 8, from 9 to 11 a.m. Coffee and doughnuts will be provided, and volunteers should meet at the West Cache La Poudre Street entrance, where Gen. William Jackson Palmer's original greenhouse still stands.
Great Shooks Run Spring Cleaning 2004
Over the last several years, the city has made several improvements to the Shooks Run Trail, a pedestrian path that spans more than four miles of Shooks Run creek, beginning south of Fountain Boulevard and ending north of Jackson Street. Recently, the city has built an extension of the trail that passes under Pikes Peak Avenue, ensuring that pedestrian traffic can proceed uninhibited.
Shooks Run creek, however, remains littered with all manner of trash -- plastic bags, bottles, cans, glass, spark plugs, tires, exhaust pipes, couches, and shopping carts.
On Saturday, May 15, a neighborhood group led by Malcolm Lucard (full disclosure: formerly an Independent reporter) and supported by Keep Colorado Springs Beautiful and Bestway Disposal will attempt to clean up the entire 4-mile section of the trail and creek. How much they will actually accomplish depends entirely on how many volunteers show up to offer help.
"Basically," said Lucard, "we want to get people together to find out about the creek so we can make a difference over the long-term."
Lucard says that the last time Shooks Run was cleaned up was more than five years ago, by another neighborhood group called Shooks Run Corridor Community Partnership. Since then, a tremendous amount of waste and trash has landed in the creek bed -- either tossed there by passersby or washed down from the upstream waters of the creek.
"It can only handle so much trash before it turns into a dump," Lucard said. "We're trying to prevent that from happening. We don't expect this to be anything other than an urban creek, but look at this," he adds, gesturing toward the its littered banks. "It's a disgrace."
Lucard is hoping that this effort will attract up to 100 volunteers, and that they will be able to clean the whole length of the trail.
"Despite the fact that it's full of trash," Lucard said, "for some reason people are still drawn to a creek."
Registration tables for the Shooks Run cleanup will be at Taylor Park, Middle Shooks Run Park, and Fountain Park.
Saturday, May 8, 9-11 a.m., Monument Valley Park, to R.S.V.P. or for information, call 385-6535.
Saturday, May 15, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Starsmore Discovery Center/Helen Hunt Falls Visitors Center, North Cheyenne Cañon Park, to R.S.V.P. or for information, call 385-6535.
Saturday, May 15, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Shooks Run Trail, call 510-6690.
For all cleanups, volunteers should bring gloves, water and sunscreen and wear durable shoes or boots.