12 Days of COS #2: Visitor numbers soar as City offers new ways to experience popular sites

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – Over the last several years, the City’s Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services department has welcomed and served an ever-increasing number of visitors, and 2018 was no exception. Record-setting annual visitation was recorded at several sites, including the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum, Pikes Peak – America’s Mountain, and the Garden of the Gods Visitor & Nature Center, owned and operated by the Garden of the Gods Foundation. 

“The growth of tourism in Colorado Springs has been absolutely phenomenal, and it’s both an exciting challenge and opportunity to welcome record numbers of visitors to our most popular sites each year,” said Karen Palus, parks director. “To keep pace with this level of visitation, we continue to look closely at each of our sites to determine and implement best practices that will preserve and enhance the visitor experience for years to come.”

Garden of the Gods Park and Visitor & Nature Center

To help accommodate the increasing number of visitors in Garden of the Gods Park and to ease traffic during its peak season, the parks department and the Garden of the Gods Foundation partnered to provide a free public shuttle, which was offered for the first time from May 26-Sept. 2. Also, a temporary overflow parking lot was installed near Rock Ledge Ranch. The shuttle, comprised of two 14-passenger vans, facilitated an estimated 61,000 boardings, and more than 27,000 vehicles utilized the parking lot during that time. 

“The pilot transportation program in Garden of the Gods helped reduce the overall number of vehicles and backups on Gateway Road, which is the main entrance to the park,” said Palus. “We are encouraged by this result and will continue testing options like the shuttle moving forward.” 

Garden of the Gods Park also introduced a special event in 2018 called, “Motorless Morning.” Held in the morning hours on April 22 and Oct. 7, these events allowed visitors to experience the park without vehicles. Community feedback was overwhelmingly positive, and similar events will likely be held in the future.

Based on electronic counters, which were fully operational for the first time this year, an estimated 1.38 million cars, nearly 745,000 pedestrians, and more than 7,500 cyclists entered the park from the main entrance as of Dec. 17. While these counters do not account for every visitor who utilizes the park, the system is helping to better capture annual visitation trends. For more information on the Garden of the Gods transportation study, visit coloradosprings.gov/gogtransportationstudy. 

For the fourth consecutive year, the Garden of the Gods Visitor & Nature Center broke annual visitation records in 2018, welcoming 1,217,543 visitors as of Dec. 12. The previous record of 1,201,638 was set in 2017, following record-breaking years in 2015 (876,474) and 2016 (1,018,439). 

Pikes Peak – America’s Mountain

Pikes Peak – America’s Mountain, an enterprise division of the City responsible for the Pikes Peak highway, Summit House, Crystal Reservoir gift shop and the Glen Cove Inn, welcomed a record 582,928 annual visitors as of Dec. 12. By the first week of September, the 103-year-old highway had already eclipsed the previous annual record of 498,722 visitors set in 2017. While higher numbers were expected both due to the temporary closure of the Pikes Peak Cog Railway and year-over-year growth since 2011, the enterprise did not expect to break its record so early in the season. 

“Pikes Peak – America’s Mountain truly reached new heights in 2018,” said Jack Glavan, manager of Pikes Peak – America’s Mountain. “During this record-breaking year, more than half a million visitors drove the highway, and the majority reached the peak on our temporary shuttle system, which was implemented due to construction of the new Pikes Peak Summit Complex. Overall, we were very pleased with this service and proud to offer visitors a new way to experience the mountain.”

The shuttle system will be implemented again in 2019 due to limited parking on the summit during construction of the new Summit Complex and will operate based on capacity from late May through early September. Since breaking ground in June, the Summit Complex has achieved the following construction milestones to date:

  • Excavation to the bottom of the building’s footprint is complete. This included the removal of nearly 10,000 cubic yards of excavated rock, enough to fill more than three Olympic swimming pools. 
  • The first phase of foundation footers, including 43 cubic yards of concrete, has been placed in preparation for precast concrete to be laid in June 2019.
  • All micropiles, a deep foundational element, for the central walkway have been placed ahead of schedule.
  • A temporary central processing plant was successfully installed to handle all sewage and water needs of the existing summit house, which will remain open to visitors until opening day of the new Summit Complex. The existing plant was demolished due to construction. 

“We were able to learn and make progress in dealing with weather challenges and workforce safety precautions,” said Jim Johnson, president and CEO of GE Johnson, the construction manager and general contractor for the Summit Complex. “These lessons will be incorporated into a very busy 2019 building season.”

The Summit Complex, co-funded by Pikes Peak – America’s Mountain and private donations, will deliver an upgraded visitor experience to better accommodate the record number of visitors who enjoy Pikes Peak each year. Upgrades include an interactive and interpretive education area focused on the history, significance and geology of Pikes Peak; an improved kitchen and expanded dining facilities; and better retail space. For more information on the Summit Complex project, visit pikespeakcolorado.com.  

Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum

For the first time, the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum has welcomed more than 100,000 annual visitors. As of Dec. 12, 109,775 people have visited the museum in 2018, surpassing the previous annual visitation record of 90,397 set in 2017. The museum, which has increased attendance each year since 2010, was up in numbers across every attendance category it tracks, including children’s programs, adult programs, off-site meetings, facility use and walk-in visitors.

“There are a number of reasons for the continued growth of the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum, but we’re most proud of the quality and relevance of our exhibits and programs, as well as our enhanced commitment to community engagement through programs like Food Truck Tuesdays,” said Matt Mayberry, cultural services division manager for the Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services department. “A relevant and cost-effective experience for visitors, the museum remains strongly committed to providing compelling ways for people to discover the past, make sense of the present and shape the region’s future, and we look forward to welcoming even more visitors in 2019.”

Admission to the museum is free, though donations are welcome. For more information, including ways to give, visit cspm.org.