City of Colorado Springs / Forestry / Colorado Springs & Trees / C/S Tree History

History of Trees in Colorado Springs, A City of Trees

The first park, Acacia (North) Park, between Nevada Avenue and Tejon Street and Platte Avenue and Bijou Street was included in the original townsite plat of Colorado Springs in 1871.
Parks Employees in early Acacia Park

The first park, Acacia (North) Park, between Nevada Avenue and Tejon Street and Platte Avenue and Bijou Street was included in the original townsite plat of Colorado Springs in 1871.

Large shade trees, a soft carpet of grass, walking paths, benches, lighting and a pavilion for musicians made Acacia Park a favorite destination.

As the building of Colorado Springs began, Palmer's vision of tree-lined streets grew stronger and more urgent. He and other officers of the Colorado Springs Company constructed the 11½-mile El Paso Canal which was used for over 80 years. The El Paso Canal began one-half mile west of Old Colorado City near 33rd Street and Fountain Creek. In addition to street trees and residential lawns and gardens, the Canal's waters fed the four lakes in Monument Valley Park, and irrigated park sites, the Court House lawn, Evergreen Cemetery, all orchards and curb and center parkways along streets.

Once water was available in 1872, Palmer quickly brought in 600 cottonwoods from the Arkansas Valley, and at his own expense, a forester was hired and trees were planted along downtown and residential streets. In early 1873, the town's first annual report described the city as "a thriving colony of about 300 houses, 1,200 inhabitants, and many thousand trees, irrigating canals, parks, streets laid out, and other extensive improvements." In all, General Palmer gave more than 2,000 acres of parks, bridle and foot paths, scenic drives and roadways planted with trees to Colorado Springs.

In 1910, City Council created a Department of Forestry, a tree ordinance and a city forester position. It was the first such department west of the Mississippi River.

The position of City Forester, and thereby, the Department of Forestry, originated upon passage of ordinance #818 on August 3, 1910. However, a forester was not appointed until March 19, 1911, at which time Mr. Fred P. McKown became the first City Forester; a post he held for the next 47 years until his retirement on December 28, 1958.

Briefly, the principal duties were the spraying, inspection, trimming, planting and removal of trees, as well as the issuance of permits. Through the subsequent years, the primary concerns of the city forester have not changed significantly, although the magnitude of the tree population and species variety along with actual knowledge requirement has increased to a large degree.

For example, in his first annual report to the city government, Mr. McKown noted that he had inventoried 1,229 street trees. This compares with over 100,000+ street, park, drainage, alley, and regional park trees that are now the city forester's responsibility. Upon his retirement, Mr. McKown recalled that when he took office, a large majority of trees in the city were either box elder or cottonwood. He further noted that a trend in planting developed toward silver maple, American elm and green ash. Thereafter and in the 1950's, American linden and Norway maple gained popularity. Today, over 30 different species of trees are planted throughout the city in significant numbers.

The status of the forestry department has undergone various alterations over the course of time. Initially, it was under the authority of the department of Public Works. A statement from Mr. McKown's first report: "This Department (Forestry) has taken over from the Street Department everything pertaining to street trees." This was the case until 1950, when records of budget appropriations show the Forestry Department under the authority of the Recreation Division. Then, in 1956, when the Parks Division and Recreation Division merged, the Forestry Department gained division standing in its own right; on paper at least, for it appears that the Director of the Park and Recreation Division was the de facto forester upon Mr. McKown's retirement until 1964 when Mr. William Schacht was appointed City Forester. In any case, the Forestry Division came under the jurisdiction of the Division of Parks in 1974, the same year the Mr. Schacht resigned his office. May 1975 saw Mr. William Stookey become the new City Forester until July 1975 when he became Superintendent of Parks. Ron Cousar became City Forester in 1991, until 1997.

The corporate limits of the city have grown since 1911, as have the population of people and trees. Naturally, we find an increase in the funds necessary to maintain the trees and the quality environment they created. To illustrate with an example through the years, records show that Mr. McKown's budgetary requirements for 1916 totaled $4,048.40 for Forestry. In 2010, we have a budgetary requirement of just under $400,000 to include operation, maintenance and salaries for the Forestry Division. 

The position of City Forester and the Forestry Division exist to maintain a high quality of life for the citizens of Colorado Springs, from the enhancement of the environment that only large numbers of healthy, properly-maintained trees can create. The success that is evident in the ongoing fulfillment of this endeavor is largely due to the efforts of past and present foresters, their division members and of course, the trees.

Today the Colorado Springs urban forest has grown to more than 99,000 street trees, 18,500 park trees and 6,300 acres of open space and regional park forest areas, all valued at over $100 million dollars. Surely the General would be pleased.

"The best friend on Earth of man is the tree. When we use the tree respectfully and economically,
we have one of the greatest resources of the Earth."

~ Frank Lloyd Wright