On the 149th anniversary of Colorado Springs, city officials offered a glimpse of celebrations and downtown parks improvements expected next year to honor an even larger milestone — the town's 150th birthday. 

The parks improvements and events, including a beard and bonnet contest, will be in the spirit of the town's history and will help honor the vision of the town's founder Gen. William Palmer, who wanted the city to have an interconnected parks system, city officials and nonprofit representatives said during a celebration in front of Glen Eyrie, Palmer's historic home. 

"A year from now, we are going to party like it's 1871," Mayor John Suthers said. 

Suthers noted that despite the town's growth to more than 489,000 people, its citizenry still embraces Palmer's vision for the town as a "shining city at the foot of a great mountain."

Ahead of the city's 150th anniversary celebration on July 31, 2021, the city expects to spend $2 million of designated tax revenue to improve downtown parks. Acacia Park, on East Platte and North Nevada avenues, and Alamo Park, the grounds of the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum, are most likely to see improvements ahead of the celebration, said Connie Schmeisser, landscape architect. 

In Acacia, the most heavily used of the downtown parks, the city is expecting to put in playground equipment and art installations for all ages, adjacent to the popular Uncle Wilber Fountain on the parks' western edge, Schmeisser said. In Alamo, the city expects to renovate the historic gazebo south of the museum and put in new plantings, she said. 

If there are additional funds, the city may build a walkway through Antlers Park, near Pikes Peak Avenue and South Sierra Madre Street, she said. The city may also put in a temporary dog park in Antlers, to see if it would be a good fit as a permanent feature, she said. 

The city also has larger long-term plans for the three downtown parks. A new ice rink for Acacia that could double as a game lawn in the summer is included along with a stone labyrinth that would be built into the pavement of Alamo Square. However, the large improvements will likely require millions more investment, Schmeisser said.

Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Director Karen Palus announced a fundraising campaign for the parks would start Friday and the city would work with granting agencies and others to raise funds. The El Pomar Foundation has already donated $600,000 to improve the parks, said city spokeswoman Vanessa Zink. 

"These downtown historic parks are woven into the fabric of our community. They are where we come to celebrate, respectfully protest, and find respite from our busy days," Palus said. 

The Pioneers Museum will also mark the 150th anniversary of the city with a new exhibit in January, featuring 150 objects telling 150 stories of the community, said Matt Mayberry, museum director. 

"We invite the community to help us think how we narrow down our rich and elaborate history in 150 things," he said. 

The first artifact in the exhibition will be World War II veteran Frank Macon's red Tuskegee Airmen's jacket representing Macon's determination and courage, Mayberry said. 

Contact the writer at mary.shinn@gazette.com or (719) 429-9264.

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