Our Connection to the Land and Nature Endures

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This article was published in the June 21, 2020 edition of the Colorado Springs Gazette

When Governor Jared Polis issued a state of emergency related to the COVID-19 outbreak in early March, the outdoors seemed like a frightening place, an environment where people could transmit the virus. We were asked to #StayHome.

As research emerged, the outdoors quickly became safer. It still had its risks but nowhere near the dangers of being indoors, around crowds or in densely populated areas.  

Aside from the research, there was another reason people sought respite outside – the isolation was too much to bear.

This combination is leading to a surge in advice encouraging us to #GetOutside.

Safer in the "Vast, Great Outdoors"

This week Governor Polis evolved his safer at home order to include the “Vast, Great Outdoors.”  He cited that Colorado has millions of acres of accessible federal land, municipal parks, state parks, county open spaces and other accessible areas that allow for stronger social distancing in the great outdoors.

And there is no better place to experience the outdoors then Colorado.

Locally, more than two-thirds of Colorado Springs residents enjoy outdoor recreation at least once a week. Open spaces like Ute Valley Open Space, Red Rock Canyon, Pikes Peak, Stratton Open Space, Garden of the Gods and Bear Creek Park provide recreational opportunities for city residents and tourists alike.

These signature landscapes define not simply a community, but an entire region. They form our collective identity as Coloradans. As core community assets, they are the very heart and soul of our identity.

Since 1977, Palmer Land Trust has protected more than 135,000 acres of working farms and ranches, panoramas and scenic corridors, and public recreation open spaces throughout southern Colorado.

We, along with countless other organizations, are working to ensure that these properties and the scenic view sheds surrounding them remain protected forever.

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s clear the outdoors have become a place of calm in the eye of crisis, a beacon of physical, emotional and mental release to the stresses of the new world.

This movement outside has shined new light on the critical importance of public land, trail and water ways, and the Pikes Peak region’s outdoor escapes.

Recreation Throughout History

Could it be that the pandemic spurs our city to look for ways to nurture, and create, green space for its people? History tells us so. 

Throughout the 1800s, recurring cholera outbreaks, which were blamed on noxious air, left a lasting mark not only in terms of death tolls but inspiring urban design concepts such as expansive green space and parks that transformed New York and other major cities throughout the world.

Landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted advocated for the healing powers of parks, which he thought could act like urban lungs as “outlets for foul air and inlets for pure air.”

Olmsted believed in the importance of open spaces to allow people to access fresh air and sunlight. Planning for Central Park, which would be designed by Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, began soon after New York’s second cholera outbreak.

Thanks to the success of that project, Olmsted went on to design more than 100 public parks and recreation grounds including those in Boston, Buffalo, Chicago and Detroit.

When cholera roared through Europe, international cities followed the same path. An admirer of the parks and garden squares of London, the nephew of Emperor Napoleon III sought to remake Paris into the “City of Light” in the wake of the pandemic, building parks and erecting fountains, bringing fresh air into the urban grid.  

From tree-lined boulevards to expansive open space, 19th-century cholera pandemics shaped some of the world’s most celebrated urban landscapes.

How will the COVID-19 pandemic impact southern Colorado?

While recovery of the public, private and non-profit sectors is a top priority, let us not forget that which has provided light in darkness. Nature.

Together, through drought, wildfire, flood and now, disease, our community has remained resilient.  Let this moment remind us that land too is essential to our identity, economy, health and well-being. 

Rebecca Jewett is the CEO of Palmer Land Trust. Palmer Land Trust is committed to protecting southern Colorado's lands for present and future generations.