A friend of mine just finished an account of his life. Former military, he’s lived in interesting places (including Greenland!) and has shouldered a bewildering variety of challenging duties. The book is, in part, a tribute to his military wife who often managed more than her fair share of the family responsibilities. I feel honored to read it knowing he plans to allow only a select few peruse the pages.
My grandmother wrote a series of short stories when she was in her 70s about surviving in Wisconsin during the Great Depression. All her grandchildren have copies. Such books are priceless gifts to their families.
Another friend recently researched the Susan G. Bretag Trail. He’s given me permission to share his findings in this column. You can read his entire fascinating article in the most recent “Fogghorn” (published by Friends of Garden of the Gods.)
The trail is located in the Garden and parallels Juniper Way Loop for .3 miles after it intersects with Gateway Road. The park has a number of trails that hint at colorful characters and fascinating stories — Buckskin Charlie Trail, Strausenback Trail and Arnold Trail, to name a few — but as far as I can determine only one (the Susan G. Bretag Trail) is named after a woman.
Here’s what my friend learned: Susan only spent 20 years of her relatively short life in Colorado Springs. Riding horses, improving existing horse trails and creating new ones were her passions. When Manitou Springs proposed a ban on horses in 1981 (long before the legal opening of the Incline), Bretag wrote a letter to the editor that appeared in the Gazette Telegraph including these words: “We can feel pity for such inflexible people, but we can’t allow the illogical passions of a few to dictate the destinies of thousands.”
Bretag and her fellow advocates were successful in convincing voters to approve a ballot measure that repealed the ban on horses on Manitou streets, alleys and public spaces.
Prior to that there were rumors that the Colorado Springs Parks Department was going to ban horses from the Garden of the Gods. Equestrian use in the Garden was creating challenges. Advocates realized something had to be done to balance trail user needs and protect the resource. Bretag referred the city to the recently completed 1976 Garden of the Gods Master Plan, which called for “... a system of well-maintained bridle trails within the park to allow horsemen to tour the major interest points ...”
She also pointed out that since the trails in the Garden had not been maintained for 20 years, it was unfair to blame their condition on horses. As a result, horses were not banned. Instead, new trails were built and remain today. Forty-plus years later advocates are making some of the same arguments — the need for more miles of trail and better trail maintenance. And not allowing illogical passions to impact the “destinies of thousands.”
Learning about local heroes like Bretag teaches us the importance of passion, perseverance and Parks Master Plans. Another lesson learned, you can spend just a couple of decades in one place and still have tremendous impact on a community. You might even get a trail named after you!
Susan Davies is executive director of the 30-year-old Trails and Open Space Coalition. Send any questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.