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(All photos by Eva Syrovy and Noel Black)
Yesterday, the Colorado Springs City Council approved the purchase of Section 16 from the State of Colorado, adding 640 acres of adjacent open space to the already remarkable Red Rock Canyon Open Space and the recently purchased White Acres, preserving for the community an inestimable treasure that will be a legacy for many generations to come. Local teacher and writer Eva Syrovy is a regular at Section 16 and wrote this essay, which accompanies the slide show above.
“The Colorado Springs Woods” by Eva Syrovy
Grandpa was the classic Czech success story. Born the son of a country schoolmaster, he graduated from a technical college, and climbed to director at the Zbrojovka arms factory. He faced tough choices during and after World War II, and made decisions I questioned as an adolescent, but understand as an adult. When I was five, he taught me to add, while he, a retired engineer, designed his dreams at his desk; when I was seven, he drilled me in multiplication– and I didn’t mind, and didn’t forget. When I was ten, he died, and I measure every man I meet to his memory.
About me, he used to say, ‘Eva will never get lost,’ and I, too young for metaphor, imagined what kind of forest I might visit in which getting lost might be a possibility. The two of us would hike for miles into the woods around Brno, where he and my grandmother lived. Sometimes we’d hunt for mushrooms, but mostly we’d just walk. I don’t remember a single conversation, but I date my ease in the wild lands from those summers and winters in the coniferous Czech Taiga.
I doubt he knew Colorado Springs, though he visited the United States several times. But he would have loved it here. He would have photographed the brilliant afternoons, when the impending sunset frames every tree in luminous gold, and the pearly mornings when light and shadow are so clearly separated. His long legs would have explored Barr Trail, Waldo Canyon, the Garden of the Gods and Red Rock Canyon in his first season; but, just as I have, he would have fallen in love with Section 16.
At the trailhead, the parking lot is stuffed in the late afternoons; people are getting out and leashing impatient dogs, unloading bikes, setting chronographs. And generally I meet a few folks on the first few switchbacks; once there was a whole company of soldiers thudding down the trail. Trees and roots make a steep, almost unceasing natural staircase that lead to views that surprise with how much I’ve climbed. The otherwise ubiquitously weedy elms have lost the battle with elevation here, and mountain mahogany and gamble oaks compete for trailside space. Black-eyed Susans, Rabbitbrush, asters, pastel sage and sky-pilot grow out of the soil pinked by the plagioclase of the Pikes Peak granite. Hummingbirds flit a few feet away, and turkey vultures and Redtail hawks sail the distant updrafts.
Soon enough I’m in the conifers, and it’s quiet except for rooting birds and skittering chipmunks, and now and then a mountain biker attempting to negotiate an acute turn. It doesn’t seem possible that the thrumming traffic of highway 24 is just a couple of miles away. Pine and spruce branches shade out the undergrowth. Wild roses speckled with ripening rosehips edge the trail.
At the ridge-top, a little over a mile and a half from the trailhead, the westering sun blinds me, and even though I can run this gentler grade, I slow down to discern the trail. Light dissects the ridges ahead, wooded horizon on horizon, folded into variegated shadows; the antennas of Cheyenne Mountain crown the furthest, bluest one. I can see the trail winding across the valley through a rare bare spot, and High Drive angling across the hillside – I’ll be there soon. From now on I’ll have to dodge more mountain bikers, the ones that don’t want to try the technical stuff I’ve just climbed. The track softens to sandbox consistency in spots, and in others crumbles down into the ravine, leaving just the width of a running shoe.
And the trail sails down, past purple and red mushrooms, past a stream cascading through a bouldered ravine, past deciduous and coniferous groves. Through the V between the hills, the sun illuminates the city nestled in its urban forest, the severe lines of highways, the airport and water towers in the distance. I meet groups of women, college students, families, lone and coupled runners, cyclists guided and independent, dogs different in breed but equal in happiness. Everyone says Hi, or at least nods through the panting. Even on the busiest afternoons, though, I’m mostly alone, feet pounding the crumbling soil, miles peeling away. When I get to the High Drive trailhead, just a mile of steep dirt road remains. Longboard riders passed me here the other day, going as fast as a car might, wheels and teeth chattering over the rocks.
Many years ago, a friend proudly showed me the Vienna woods. I felt intensely envious as she talked about how this park in Austria allowed city dwellers to leave noise and congestion and stress behind. I didn’t know about Section 16 then. We could have called it the Colorado Springs Woods, but its name carries just enough in-the-know pedestrian cachet, doesn’t it?
Preserving it is one of the best things we’ve ever done. My grandfather would have admired us for it.
You can read more of Eva Syrovy’s essays and columns for The Denver Post HERE.
Tagged with: Open Space