Thursday, January 19, 2012

Bear Creek Park

The El Paso County Parks in Colorado are a real treasure. Among the most used is Bear Creek Park on the western edge of Colorado Springs, abutting the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains. The park is laced with trails, which actually makes it somewhat difficult to navigate, but the views alone are worth the trouble.

Signs with maps are present at each major intersection of trails, but it took me a minute to decide that the bright yellow circular highlight stood for “you are here.” A large parcel of private land also divides the park, forcing hikers into a frustratingly long detour to get from one side to the other. The landowner needs to at least grant an easement to permit a more direct trail to the nature center located in the northwest corner of the park.

The nature center is spacious, and besides the permanent displays there is a room that can host traveling exhibits. When I visited on January 5, a traveling exhibit entitled “The Hidden World of Bears” was in its final days there. Oh, and they don’t call the place Bear Creek for nothing. There really are Black Bears living in the area.

Many of the exhibits in the nature center are interactive rather than static, but there are the obligatory taxidermy mounts. The original building was destroyed in a suspected arson fire in the year 2000. That it was rebuilt quckly is a testament to the commitment of the Colorado Springs community to continue the park’s commitment to excellence in environmental education and natural history interpretation.

While the front desk is usually manned by a volunteer, I was lucky enough to meet Ken Pals, a semi-retired naturalist with El Paso County Parks. He shared his ideas on how I might be able to help the park by presenting programs there. Indeed, they have a wide variety of activities going on all the time, aimed at children, families, and adults.

There is a paved nature trail in the immediate vicinity of the nature center, with one loop designated as the “Songbird Trail.” It includes several illustrated interpretive signs and a boardwalk close to Bear Creek. There are also feeders that attract a wide variety of birds at any time of the year. I got good views of Dark-eyed Junco, Blue Jay, Western Scrub Jay, White-breasted Nuthatch, Black-capped Chickadee, House Finch, American Goldfinch, and even a Downy Woodpecker in under an hour of watching on the afternoon of January 5. I can only imagine what an early morning visit would be like for bird diversity.

I’m already looking forward to spending some spring days at Bear Creek Park. I hope you will put it on your own list of places to go when you visit Colorado Springs.

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