North Cheyenne Cañon is rich with both elements of man-made and natural surroundings on the 1,600 acres of this regional park, owned by the City of Colorado Springs. Included on it are two Visitors Centers including the Starsmore Discovery Center and “The Cub”, or Helen Hunt Falls Visitors Center, both of which are open to visitors in the summer months and are a great place to start learning the area by getting a trail and nature ma
From Colorado Springs’ founding by General Palmer in the 1870s up until the present, this park has been shaped by its various changes in use. The resources have changed based on demands of the visitors – this is a continuing process.
North Cheyenne Cañon Park was a refuge for Colorado Springs residents from the hot, arid surroundings of a virtually treeless landscape. With the natural falls and wooded areas, it provided a moist escape for the weekends for many early settlers of the Colorado Springs area.
A bright and scholarly woman named Helen Hunt Jackson, known for her advocacy of Native America rights, poet and author of countless short stories and books including Ramona, lived in Colorado Springs with her second husband, William Jackson, for her health in the 1880s, and found solace in spending time in the Cañon. After a fall, she returned to California to recover and died there of cancer. Later the falls just below Silver Falls was named Helen Hunt Falls in her honor, located next to the Helen Hunt Falls Visitors Center.
She wrote of Cheyenne Cañon:“As I looked up from the ford to the mouth of the canyon, I was reminded of some of the grand old altar-pieces of the early centuries, where, lest the pictures of saints and angels and divine beings should seem too remote, too solemn and overawing, the painters used to set at the base, rows of human children, gay and mirthful, leaping and laughing or playing viols. So lay this sunny belt of sparkling water, glistening sand, and joyous blue blossom, at the base of the picture made by the dark mouth of the canyon, where two great mountains had recoiled and fallen apart from each other, leaving a chasm, midway in which rose a smaller mountain of sharp rocks, like a giant sentry disputing the way. Forests of pines fill the rift on either side this rock, and their darklines stretch high up, right and left, nearly to the top of each mountain. Higher and ruggeder peaks rise beyond, looking as if they must shut the canyon sharply, as a gate closes an alley; but they do not. Past them, among them, in spite of them, the creek took its rightof way, the mountains and rocks yielded, and the canyon winds.”- Bits of Travel at Home (1878) by Helen Hunt Jackson
By 1883 the park, then owned by Colorado College Land Company, had a wagon road into the Cañon, various footpath trails, and was open to the public every day of the week. To show how cherished this park really is, the decision to close the park on Sundays to give park employees a day off lead to public outrage. The gate was torn down, campaigns began speaking out against the closing and even Helen Hunt Jackson (a local writer that drew her inspiration from the Cañon) finally gained the reward of having the City of Colorado Springs purchase 640 acres in 1885 to be used as a city park. At this time, the park gained it’s name Cheyenne Park, making North Cheyenne Cañon one of the oldest Parks in Colorado Springs.
In the early 1900s, two cottages were built at the entrance of the park to house the caretaker’s residence and storage for the park’s maintenance equipment. These two buildings burned down in the 1960s.
William Palmer, the founder of the City of Colorado Springs, donated an additional 480 acres to the park in 1907. Before he donated the land, he developed a carriage road through the Cañon and over High Drive, built the shelter pavilion and built the original Mt. Cutler Trail and other trails. Located on the property donated was the original Bruin Inn, constructed in 1881, which was at one time the President of Colorado College Tenney’s residence. The Bruin Inn is now the Helen Hunt Visitors Center we call “The Cub” – a tourist attraction and landmark.
In the spring of 1913, the U.S. Forest Service at Pike National Forest planted 700,000 two to four year-old trees to reforest the slopes of the Cañon. The project was completed in only three months.
The progression continued in 1914 when the first stone bridge was constructed, followed by several others the following year. And in 1917, automobiles were allowed into the park. Due to the gasoline shortages during the Second World War, automobiles were restricted to driving through the park in the evenings. Since the road was so narrow, there were strict guidelines on hours travelers could ascend and descend the single car width. In 1932, after a trolley system was abandoned, a bus system took its place.
Through community and political involvement, the surrounding areas of North Cheyenne Cañon, including their immediate neighbor Stratton Open Space, was acquired and preserved as an Open Space, thus keeping clear access to Pike National Forest and halting development of our lovely location.
With all of this rich history, the Cañon is being considered as a possible Registered NCCP.