One of the local connections I find myself most drawn to is the Rampart Range area of the Pike National Forest. Maybe it is the forest itself, or the two newspapers that I run back and forth between, or the sense of history between them.
Because of my connections to Woodland Park and Monument, a favorite summertime travel is the crow-flyish, rough gravel roads connecting them. You can cut off 20 or 30 miles, but add 15 or 20 minutes, by driving “the back way.”
It is also interesting to me how things might have developed differently, with different developers, over time, and different timing.
Jan Mackell Collins notes in her new book “Lost Ghost Towns of Teller County” that perhaps the roads tell some of the story. Same for the developers like Dr. William Abraham Bell, the founder of Manitou Springs, buddy of Colorado Springs founder of Gen. William Palmer.
Bell, though it is not universally known and talked about, also had development efforts in the early days of what is now Palmer Lake and nearby Monument.
“In 1873, Bell built a three-story hotel and some cabins made from tents with wood floors (in what was then known as Bergen’s Park). Soon, wealthy families from the East and even Europe began visiting the park,” writes Mackell Collins.
“Within a year, a wagon road was planned from Bergen’s Park that would lead east to the town of Monument, in El Paso County and west to the city of Fairplay in Park County,” she said.
“Even as plans for the road were delayed, Bell next developed a trout hatchery. The hatchery ran successfully as late as 1890.
“When Bell discovered there was already another place in Colorado called Bergen Park in 1875, he changed the name to Manitou Park.”
But, of course, there have been other brushes with history in the “in between area.”
In “The story behind the Pike National Forest,” by Marion Ritchey Vance and John A. Vance, and on U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service site, history of the Forest Service itself is tied there.
“On Aug. 8, 1898, Col. May appointed a young man from the Plum Creek Reserve as Forest Ranger in the state of Colorado. William R. Kreutzer thus became the first forest ranger on the Pike National Forest and, reportedly, in the nation. Young Kreutzer knew forests and he took his job seriously.”
His charge from Col. May: “Ride as far as the Almighty will let you, and get control of the fire situation and as much of the mountain country as you possibly can, and keep some sort of a record about it.”
Reforestation became a priority for the new ranger.
“A popular image of the Forest Service is that of rangers arriving to protect wooded lands. In the case of the Pike, the job was first to recreate the forest.
“Protection of the Front Range watershed was paramount. That meant re-establishing ground cover as quickly as possible to stem erosion, and preventing further damage,” the Vances wrote.
To cope with such a massive reforestation project, local foresters began experimenting with seed and seedlings. Seedlings proved more effective, but early nurseries yielded little reward for the arduous labor.
The breakthrough came with establishment of a small planting station at the foot of Mount Herman. Officially named the Monument Nursery in 1907, the seedling facility was one of the first in the forest system and the most important in the Rocky Mountains.
Over its 58 years of service, the Monument Nursery produced millions of seedlings annually. By the early 1950s, more than 40,000 acres of denuded lands on the Pike had been replanted with Douglas fir, blue spruce, Engelmann spruce, ponderosa, limber and bristlecone pine.
Monument supplied seedlings to other forests as well and to private farmers for windbreak and erosion control. Similar efforts were occurring nearby, in the Manitou Park area.
Bell’s own efforts, coupled with the efforts of Palmer, led to the donation of Manitou Park to Colorado College.
“Accordingly, Colorado College established the Colorado School of Forestry. In 1937, the Works Progress Administration built a lovely six-building complex at Manitou Park,” wrote Mackell Collins.
On the other side, “During the Great Depression, Monument Nursery was home to one of Colorado’s largest Civilian Conservation Corps camps. The Corps was key to the reforestation effort. From 1934 to 1942, CCC crews under Forest Service supervision designed and constructed buildings, fought fires, manned the nurseries and planted seedlings,” Vances noted.
Some disagreed with the practices of reforestation.
According to the Denver Republican (June 28, 1908) “…it would behoove the citizens of Colorado Springs to bring an injunction suit against the government, which threatens to plant a million trees per year until 20 million are planted on the Pikes Peak Reserve.”
“Water is scarce enough at Colorado Springs at present conditions, but if the government is going to attempt to water 20 million trees in addition to the trees now absorbing water, I can assure the citizens that in 20 years there would only be water for the trees and none for the city. It would increase the water supply of Colorado Springs materially if every tree was cut from Pikes Peak.”
By 1965, with a relatively healthy forest in place, reforestation was no longer a priority for the district office. Nursery operations were moved to Basalt and the facilities converted in the 1970s to the Monument Fire Center. It now serves as base for the elite firefighting crews known as “hotshots,” says Vance’s story.
The Forest Services, Colorado State Forest Service and Pike National Forest, continue to use the structures in, and around Manitou Park.The roads between the two areas on “the back way” are passable, most days.
___ By Rob Carrigan
Civilian Conservation Corps crews from the Monument camp working on Mount Herman Road during the 1930s.
The CCC Camp nursery in Monument in the early days.