The existing Soda Springs Park is situated in the heart of Historic Downtown Manitou Springs, Colorado. A master plan update was developed in collaboration with the community and parks board. The plan focused on activating the undeveloped and under-utilized west end of the park as the first phase of construction. This “revitalized beginning” resulted in an exemplary tribute to the park’s surrounding natural environment and creek system, the historic and geologic wonders of the region, and the growing needs of the community connectivity and open space. The design prioritized having a restored sense of safety and functionality with the existing developed area of the park by including a decorative plaza, unique play area, accessible walkways and seating, boulder creek access with consideration to the local ecosystem and floodplain, security lighting, and a new flexible lawn to support day use and annual park events. This completed portion of the park anchors the space with engaging, multigenerational recreational activities. The park improvements have been enthusiastically received by residents and visitors and created momentum for future park improvements.
History and Context
Manitou Springs, nestled in the historically rich Historic Downtown of Colorado’s Pikes Peak Region, has always cherished its profound connection to water and geology. At the heart of this city lies the revered Soda Springs Park, a 1.9-acre green oasis that holds great sentimental value for the locals, reflecting their deep affection for the surrounding environment.
Soda Springs Park embraces its geological marvels, encompassed by subterranean cavernous aquifers that channel mineral waters. Surrounding the park are eight naturally carbonated and effervescent mineral springs, awe-inspiring geological formations, and captivating mountain vistas. These springs boast a storied past, intertwined with the beliefs of Native American tribes such as the Ute, Arapahoe, and Cheyenne, who regarded the mineral waters as possessing healing properties, both for consumption and bathing.
During the 1870s, Manitou Springs began captivating tourists with its extraordinary geological destinations and the therapeutic allure of its waters. Meandering gracefully through Soda Springs Park, alongside the mineral springs, is Fountain Creek, a picturesque freshwater creek teeming with fifteen diverse fish species, further enhancing the park’s natural allure.
Today, Soda Springs Park remains an indispensable part of daily life for both locals and visitors. It serves as a bustling hub for recreational activities, hosting outdoor festivals, concerts, and providing a tranquil retreat for art enthusiasts, bikers, and strollers exploring the vibrant downtown area. However, the park has shown signs of wear and underutilization due to its popularity.
To rejuvenate the park and instill it with renewed vitality, Landscape Architects worked closely with the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board and community. Together, they crafted a master plan update with a primary focus on activating the park’s west end, a 0.25-acre area, as the initial phase of its transformation. This collaborative effort sought to breathe new life into Soda Springs Park, ensuring its enduring role as a beloved and vibrant gathering place for all.
Purpose and Approach
The Parks and Recreation Advisory Board had a vision to improve the west end of the park. This area lacked recreational activities, had safety concerns in darker sections, and was disconnected from the rest of the park and community. In the initial meeting, three guiding principles were established: reflecting Manitou Springs and Soda Springs Park’s community spirit, enhancing the natural character of Fountain Creek, and setting a foundation for future phases.
The project goals expanded on these principles. They aimed to celebrate Fountain Creek, create safe and inviting access to the water, improve visibility within the park, provide seating for socializing and solitude, offer play and fitness opportunities, allow for future art integration, and minimize costs and water usage.
During a community engagement process led by the landscape architects, input from the public was gathered through a public workshop, presentations by students from Manitou Springs Middle School, and an online survey. The feedback emphasized the importance of incorporating activities for pre-teens and adolescents, preserving the park’s natural beauty, and using sustainable materials.
The landscape architectural team lead a multidisciplinary team of consultants and design process from master plan through construction. The consultant team included civil engineers, electrical engineer, irrigation designer, geotechnical engineer and custom play feature designer. Collaboration with the client throughout the project included the city engineer and the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board.
At the westernmost corner of the park, a captivating play experience takes center stage. It offers rock-climbing challenges of various levels, catering to all age groups. Notably, there’s a ten-foot performance boulder designed specifically for pre-teens and adolescents, drawing inspiration from the vibrant reddish-hued protruding rocks of the Garden of the Gods geological formation. Climbing this structure presents users with multiple paths, providing ongoing challenges as they strive to reach the top. For younger users, a smaller boulder structure featuring rope climbers and nature-themed log steppers offers a balanced experience within the same area.
To enhance accessibility and safety, engineered wood fiber serves as a fall surface while being harmless to the surrounding ecosystem in the event of a significant flood. Additional lighting has been installed in this section of the park, ensuring visibility and safety for users.
To welcome visitors from the north side of the park along Park Avenue, a half-circle-shaped concrete welcome plaza overlooks the play are and features stamped concrete stone patterns, sandblasted lettering displaying the park’s name, and ADA accessible seating options. Stabilized crushed stone walkways connect all the new amenities to the existing park, surrounding neighborhood and downtown.
A flexible lawn provides the only lawn space in the park providing a critical need for the community for a place to picknick, lounge or simply kick a ball around with your kids. The lawn also provides space for the many events that occur in the park throughout the year.
The signature feature of the site improvements includes a granite terraced boulder access to Fountain Creek. Connecting residents and visitors to this natural feature was key to the success of this project. The terraced boulder access integrates seamlessly into the landscape and provides a stepped access to the creek and integrates an overlook at the top of the terrace adjacent to the walk that connects the park to the north and south sides of the city.
Given the constraints of the limited space within the west end of the park, the proximity of construction to Fountain Creek, and the park’s location within a 100-year floodplain, the landscape architects took proactive measures to tackle these specific challenges. Ensuring a no-rise floodplain condition was critical to the success of the design and timely completion of the project. All improvements were designed for resiliency during flood conditions and constructed of durable and environmentally sustainable materials.
Environmental Sensitivity and Sustainability
Incorporating a terraced boulder plaza to provide access to Fountain Creek posed significant challenges in the design process. Previously, visitors would create their own access points to the creek, leading to erosion and safety issues. The design addressed these concerns by creating four visible tiers of granite boulders, with an additional row beneath the subgrade for added stability and support. Each boulder was carefully secured to the one below and adjacent, using dowels, ensuring a secure formation in the event of flooding.
Collaboration with the contractor, civil engineers, and geotech and materials engineers was necessary to obtain permits and implement best management practices during construction to protect the creek’s health. The design also included two open areas on each side of the top tier of boulders, allowing wheelchair users to enjoy the creek views alongside other visitors.
During the planning of this phase, the landscape architects collaborated with the city’s ‘Manitou Pollinators’ organization to incorporate pollinator-friendly species into the planting plan. Whether they were nectar plants or host plants, over 75% of the plant palette consisted of pollinator species. The remaining plants were chosen for their suitability in the native creek ecosystem or their resilience as hardy native species.
The park’s west end improvements proved to be immensely successful, fulfilling the community’s goals. Families and visitors have thoroughly enjoyed the park’s revitalization, expressing their enthusiasm for the completion of future phases in Soda Springs Park. The first phase not only activated the park but also enhanced its connectivity, captivating everyone’s attention. The design effectively acknowledges and values the significance of water and geology, pays homage to the region’s history, fosters connections, and strengthens the community spirit.
- Thinleaf Alder
- Red Twig Dogwood
- Golden Currant
- Yellow Columbine
- Black-eyed Susan
- Panchito Manzanita
- Spreading Phlox
- Native Verbena
- Northern Sea Oats
- Boulder Blue Fescue
Native Seed Mix
- Western Wheatgrass
- Green Needlegrass
- Sideoats Grama
- Blue Grama
- Sand Dropseed
Documents and Media
Planning Docs (if applicable):