Solitude Park is a stunning 300-acre open space adjacent to the Cedar Heights neighborhood in Colorado Springs. The land has been protected by a conservation easement since 2000, ensuring that it will continue to be a wild backdrop of Garden of the Gods and remain available to the homeowners in the neighborhood for enjoyment and recreation, forever. While the area is usually closed to the public, a couple residents of Cedar Heights who have been instrumental in working to manage the property recently took a few Palmer Land Trust supporters on a tour of the land.
Besides the beautiful views and its proximity to the city, Solitude Park is a unique case study in fire mitigation. Nearly 100 acres of Solitude Park have been thinned of dead scrub oak and Ponderosa pine since fire mitigation efforts started in 2008. According to mitigation experts familiar with the land and the Waldo Canyon fire, when the fire entered the northwest corner of Solitude Park back in 2012, it simply ran out of fuel. Credit is given in part to the pre-fire mitigation efforts as well as a bit of luck: the wind shifted, well-aimed slurry dropped from a tanker aircraft, and ground crews widened nearby dirt roads to create a break. Altogether, Solitude Park lost only 25 acres during the Waldo Canyon Fire. A clear line can be seen where the fire was stopped from proceeding further. It has since been recognized nationally as an example of what is possible with proper fire mitigation efforts.
According to Cedar Heights resident Dick Standaert, who initiated mitigation and graciously lead our tour, mitigation maintenance work continues on the land, but with a keen focus on maintaining the wild beauty of the property. Protecting the land here has meant developing a plan for pre-fire mitigation while being mindful to not drastically alter the landscape. In many cases, an unknowing hiker wouldn’t be able to tell clearing had even been done.
The Solitude Park mitigation project was done in conjunction with the Colorado Springs Fire Department and with grant money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Pre-Disaster Mitigation Grant Program. They worked closely with Palmer to ensure all mitigation efforts were in line with the conservation easement that is in place and that the conservation values of the land were not diminished in any way.
A huge thanks to our hosts and guides as we explored this property and learned about its important role in Colorado Springs history: Dick Standaert, Bruce Fogarty, and Jim Flynn, all of the Cedar Heights neighborhood.
Read more about local fire mitigation work, including details about Solitude Park, as written by the National Fire Protection Association: