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The legacy of the land that we all enjoy today has been embraced by residents and visitors of southern Colorado for millennia. Many have come before us, and many more will follow. We believe it is important to understand the history of the land over the years in order to appreciate the treasured landscape we have today.
Paleo-Indian people hunted and lived in the shadow of the mighty Pikes Peak mountain towns of thousands of years ago. Evidence of their lives—tools, etchings, and fire pits—are left in the places we recognize and aim to conserve as iconic parks and open spaces.
Before it was America’s Mountain, Pikes Peak stood at the center of the Tabeguache band of the Nuche—known to most today as the Ute tribe. The red-dirt parks of Garden of the Gods and Red Rock Canyon Open Space, the dense woods of Black Forest, and the bubbling waters of Manitou Springs were their home.
Zebulon Pike first tried and failed to summit what would become known as Pikes Peak in 1806. In the years that followed, the attractions of gold, silver, and land would lure many more White Europeans to the Pikes Peak region.
Julia and James Holmes traveled to Colorado in 1858 with a group of gold miners. When the party arrived at the foot of Pikes Peak, the Holmeses decided to attempt to climb the mountain. They reached the summit on August 5, 1858, making Julia Holmes the first woman to have climbed Pikes Peak.
The European movement west snowballed in the mid-1800s with the frenzy of the Colorado Gold Rush and the Homestead Act of 1862, which gave 160 acres to eligible settlers. This alone resulted in ten percent of the total land area of the United States transitioning to predominantly White private ownership.
In an 1868 treaty, the Tabeguache were forcibly removed from their lands and sent to a reservation on the western slope of Colorado.
The demand for western transportation brought railroad entrepreneur William J. Palmer, a quaker and passionate abolitionist, to Colorado. In July of 1871, he and his business partner Dr. William Abraham Bell founded the City of Colorado Springs.
William J. Palmer founded many notable institutions in the area, from the City of Manitou Springs, to the Colorado Springs Gazette, to Colorado College (Palmer Hall pictured above). True to form, he remained a lifelong advocate for equality, working to protect the 15th amendment—ensuring that segregation did not occur in Colorado Springs, as it had in other cities—and also involving the Ute Tribe in community events.
Conservation of our great outdoors becomes a national priority with the establishment of many federal organizations such as the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, and Bureau of Land Management.
The Perkin's family donates the original 460-acres to the City of Colorado Springs. Later, city acquisitions brought the park to 1,367 acres.
Drought and dust storms sweep the Great Plains and eastern Colorado transforming the once fertile land into a dusty, barren landscape. Colorado’s “black blizzards” were intense, lasted for days, and returned nearly every year during the “dirty thirties.”
The volunteer-led foundation was established, the first iteration of the conservancy, helping the City of Colorado Springs’ Parks and Recreation Department to identify and acquire new public parks and open spaces. Soon thereafter, the Foundation became a standalone organization and went on to serve the greater Pikes Peak region.
By the late 1980s, the consumptive use of significant agricultural water rights for more than 80,000 acre-feet that irrigated nearly 60,000 acres of farmland, were sold and transferred to municipal use. Today, only 1,500 to 3,500 acres of irrigated farmland remains in Crowley County.
A significant era of conservation in the region, the Conservancy (still acting as the William J. Palmer Parks Foundation) began assisting with the protection of the Garden of the Gods. Blair Bridge, now Blair Bridge Open Space, north of Garden of the Gods, was donated by Mr. Hill to the City of Colorado Springs, with significant support from the Conservancy. This kicked off an era of significant conservation to protect the backdrop of the Garden.
To honor the evolution and the conservation vision and success of the organization, William J. Palmer Parks Foundation changes its name to Palmer Land Trust.
In the face of drought, climate change, and the rapid loss of farmland due to the transfer of water from agriculture use to municipal use, Palmer initiates a historic western water initiative in the lower Arkansas Valley and Pueblo county.
More than a land trust, Palmer Land Trust became Palmer Land Conservancy to reflect the evolving and innovative nature of the organization as it positions itself for the next generation of land conservation.
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The land doesn't protect itself. It needs a community of courageous land lovers like you to help conserve it forever.