The City of Colorado Springs has some of the best parks in the world. From Garden of the Gods' red rock grandeur to Palmer Park’s bluffs, these public spaces offer respite, recreation, and connection with nature. Yet, for many residents and visitors, enjoying these natural treasures can be a challenge due to limited accessibility.
An estimated 1 in 8 people in the Colorado Springs surrounding area have a disability, which is higher than most cities of our size. But accessibility in parks isn't just about ramps and railings; it's about ensuring everyone, regardless of ability, can experience the joy and benefits of spending time outdoors. That is why multiple departments within the City of Colorado Springs including the Office of Accessibility, Public Works and Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services (PRCS) have partnered together to advance recreational accessibility in the Colorado Springs community.
These improvement projects were designed with inclusivity in mind with modifications to enhance the independence and quality of life for individuals with disabilities. Many of these projects were completed in 2023. This includes the Palmer Park playground, which has been transformed to be more accessible for the entire community. More than 6,500 square feet of sand was replaced with an engineered wood fiber to provide a firm, stable and slip-resistant surface that is still safe to play on. Landscape timbers between play areas were also removed and staff installed an adaptive swing set. A pilot program is tentatively scheduled for 2024 to install wear mats at locations around the playground where the engineered wood fiber is more likely to shift. These wear mats will help maintain access to various components of the playground and reduce the amount of maintenance required from Parks staff.
Previously, the Palmer Dog Park only had parking in a gravel lot, without a clear route into the fenced area for someone with a mobility disability. The accessibility improvements within the parking lot include formalizing accessible parking spots and creating a compliant ramp down to the entrance of the fenced dog area. Additionally, amenities provided at the dog park were moved closer to the entrances of either fenced area, so that they are available to anyone that might need them. These improvements make the area truly usable for anyone to bring their dog (service animal or not) to the dog park.
Another example is providing accessible parking in the Garden of the Gods overflow parking lot. Since the Garden of the Gods receives an estimated 4.5 million visitors per year, parking within the Garden itself can fill up pretty quickly. The newly installed parking spaces are provided near a shuttle stop that provides further access into the Garden and will also provide access to future interpretive signs and installations at a plaza area located nearby. Up until this project, the overflow parking lot was entirely gravel.
In 2024, the City is planning many innovative improvements, including at the Rock Ledge Ranch Historic Site. Many of the buildings at the living museum are not necessarily accessible to persons with disabilities, given the fact that some were constructed over 100 years ago. The Office of Accessibility, the City’s Communications Department, and the City’s IT Department are working together to provide a kiosk at the site that will include narrated videos of experiences at sites around the Ranch that are not physically accessible. The City is also planning multiple improvements will take place at the Westside Community Center and fixing cracked concrete at Meadow Park.
A full list of improvements for 2023 and 2024 can be found at ColoradoSprings.gov/ADAProjects.
Accessibility improvement projects play a crucial role in creating a more inclusive society. By focusing on accessible public transportation, barrier-free environments, technology, community engagement, and education, we can make a positive impact on the lives of individuals with disabilities. Let us continue to champion the cause of accessibility and work towards a more inclusive future for all. We look forward to the work that will be accomplished in 2024 to create an inclusive environment for all of Colorado Springs to enjoy!