Last week, as reported in The Gazette and in national media outlets, our beloved Garden of the Gods was ranked by TripAdvisor as the nation's No. 1 park and as the No. 2 park in the world.
This tremendous award honors the vision and foresight of our city's founder, Gen. William Jackson Palmer, and proves that we remain a city that adores the outdoors and values public spaces.
To dig deeper into the award given to Colorado Springs, let's analyze the other parks on the list that were named top in the U.S.: Central Park in New York City, Golden Gate Park in San Francisco and Balboa Park in San Diego, to name a few. These cities are larger, have bigger budgets and are more well-known than the Springs, but we trumped them with natural beauty preserved because of the wisdom and prudence of our city's early pioneers.
City parks like Garden of the Gods have numerous benefits for Colorado Springs. Not only do they attract tourists en masse (by some estimates, over 2 million per year), but they also promote public health and wellness as well as a sense of community.
These millions of visitors who come to the city every year to visit our treasured parks contribute to our economy by spending money here and dining in local restaurants and staying at local hotels. Existing assets like the world-class Broadmoor hotel and Colorado Springs Airport help this happen.
These facts raise the question: How should the city spend its limited resources in terms of attracting tourists when we already entice millions of them with natural beauty? In other words, what is the most effective way to promote what we already have in the Springs?
Health benefits of parks are also profuse. They enable people of all ability statuses and income levels to access trails as well as walking and running paths. Compared to the bike lanes on the streets, they also provide safer and more interesting terrain for local bikers. Exceptional parks like the Garden of the Gods even allow bolder folks to climb the rock edifices and challenge themselves at a whole different level.
This award and others like it help dispel negative perceptions about our city. Imagine, if instead of being defined critically in the national media and national consciousness, we were defined by what the Springs truly is: a beautiful, thriving, healthy city - enjoying superior quality of life in the greatest state in the nation. This is, in one sense, what our founders intended for us to be.
Open space and public parks have been a virtue of our city from the very beginning; they're what help set Colorado Springs apart from our Front Range counterparts. Boulder, for example, may have the Flatirons, and Denver may have Washington Park, but those don't begin to compare to our park system: We have Garden of the Gods, Red Rock Canyon, Palmer Park, North Cheyenne Ca?n and countless others. Soon after our city's founding, Gen. Palmer and his counterparts thoughtfully planned a city with wide, open streets, abundant trees as well as numerous public parks and open spaces where people could escape the noise and clutter of the city.
Today, every citizen must work to uphold our founders' values by promoting parks and open spaces, being their diligent stewards and, most important, using them. Parks, trails and open spaces are of limited usefulness if they are not regularly utilized and enjoyed by the public.
In 1901, Palmer eloquently wrote that parks like Garden of the Gods engendered citizens to be "refreshed by a little taste of country, without going too far afield" and extolled the virtues of public parks being open, free to the public and accessible by all people for the benefit of the community at-large.
Alex Johnson is a young professional and a member of the city's Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Advisory Board.