Palmer Lake, Colorado

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Palmer Lake, Colorado
Palmer Lake Town Hall; Yule Log Hunt is held each December.
Palmer Lake Town Hall; Yule Log Hunt is held each December.
Location of Palmer Lake in El Paso County, Colorado.
Location of Palmer Lake in El Paso County, Colorado.
Coordinates: 39°6′48″N 104°54′18″W / 39.11333°N 104.90500°W / 39.11333; -104.90500Coordinates: 39°6′48″N 104°54′18″W / 39.11333°N 104.90500°W / 39.11333; -104.90500
Country United States
State Colorado
County[1]El Paso
Incorporated (town)March 12, 1889[2]
 • TypeStatutory Town[1]
 • MayorJohn Cressman
 • Total3.11 sq mi (8.06 km2)
 • Land3.09 sq mi (8.01 km2)
 • Water0.02 sq mi (0.06 km2)
Elevation7,297 ft (2,224 m)
 • Total2,420
 • Estimate 
 • Density852.85/sq mi (329.26/km2)
Time zoneUTC-7 (Mountain (MST))
 • Summer (DST)UTC-6 (MDT)
ZIP code[6]
Area code(s)719
FIPS code08-57025
GNIS feature ID0204794
Main HighwaysColorado 105.svg

Palmer Lake is a Statutory Town in El Paso County, Colorado, United States. The population was 2,420 at the 2010 census.[7] Palmer Lake was founded by General William Jackson Palmer in 1871 and was incorporated in 1889.

Palmer Lake is one of three communities in the Tri-Lakes region between Denver and Colorado Springs. The three lakes are Palmer Lake, Monument Lake, and Lake Woodmoor. Located off Interstate 25 near two major metropolitan centers, Palmer Lake is a growing community on the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains.

Downtown Palmer Lake, though small, features restaurants and coffee shops on Colorado Highway 105. There is also a library, town hall, and a historical museum. The Tri-Lakes Center for the Arts, a nonprofit fine arts venue, features rotating art exhibitions and concert events with nationally recognized artists.

The town's water comes from two reservoirs in the mountains behind the town and from wells. Both reservoirs and Monument Creek, which flows out of them, are considered part of the town's watershed. The town's namesake lake dried up completely during the summer of 2012 due to ongoing extreme drought conditions,. Local citizens investigated various ways to fill the lake and keep it healthy on a permanent basis. However, the town's Board of Trustees held a firm stance against transferring water from the reservoirs to be stored in the lake, asking "Should our water supply be protected for the health and safety of all of our citizens, or should it be utilized for mostly aesthetic purposes?" They provided no indication of what a valid purpose to keep they lake full might be. Downtown businesses and resident morale suffered greatly due to the lack of any surface water within city limits. By 2014, the lake was nearly dry again [8]

Library services for the city are provided by the Palmer Lake Branch Library, located at 66 Lower Glenway in Palmer Lake.


Palmer Lake is located at 39°6′48″N 104°54′18″W / 39.11333°N 104.90500°W / 39.11333; -104.90500 (39.113371, -104.904933).[9]

The town is bordered by the Greenland Open Space Preserve to the north, Pike National Forest to the west, Monument to the south, and Ben Lomond and the I-25 corridor to the east. Palmer Lake sits at the north edge of El Paso County and offers sweeping views of the Rocky Mountain foothills.

According to the United States Census Bureau, the town has a total area of 3.1 square miles (8.0 km2). 3.1 square miles (8.0 km2) of this is land and 0.04 square miles (0.10 km2) of it (0.65%) is water.

The town marks the top of the Palmer Divide, a ridge running from Palmer Lake eastward which separates the Arkansas River drainage to the south from the Platte River drainage to the north. The highest point of the divide is about 7,700 feet (2,300 m) above sea level at Vollmer Hill located in the Black Forest. At Monument Hill the elevation is about 7,352 feet (2,241 m). It staggers along the county line between Douglas County and El Paso County. This divide separates the Denver metropolitan area from the Pikes Peak area. The town's namesake, Palmer Lake, is situated at 7,250 feet (2,210 m).


Historical population
Census Pop.
Est. 20162,637[5]9.0%
U.S. Decennial Census[10]

As of the census[11] of 2010, there were 2,420 people families residing in the town's 1,079 housing units. This represented an increase of 11.06% (241 persons) over the 2000 census count. Of its 2420 inhabitants, 75.9% were age 18 or over and 24.1% were under 18 years of age. The racial makeup of the town was 88.3% White, 0.05% African American, 0.40% Native American, 0.60% Asian, 0.01% Pacific Islander, 0.7% from other races, and 2.5% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 7.0% of the population.

In 2000, there were 843 households out of which 37.7% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 58.1% were married couples living together, 7.7% had a female householder with no husband present, and 32.3% were non-families. 24.0% of all households were made up of individuals and 5.0% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.58 and the average family size was 3.15. In the town, the population was spread out with 28.6% under the age of 18, 5.9% from 18 to 24, 35.0% from 25 to 44, 24.2% from 45 to 64, and 6.3% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 37 years. For every 100 females, there were 104.6 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 98.0 males. The median income for a household in the town was $52,340, and the median income for a family was $65,074. Males had a median income of $42,122 versus $30,078 for females. The per capita income for the town was $25,505. About 4.8% of families and 6.5% of the population were below the poverty line, including 9.8% of those under age 18 and 2.7% of those age 65 or over.


In the late 1890s, with the rising popularity of bicycling, Denver area cycling clubs promoted the creation of paths connecting urban areas with rural areas. In 1897, building on the 11-mile Denver-Littleton Cycle Path, created by the Denver Cycle Path Association, co-founded and headed by Governor Alva Adams and others,[12] a new group raised funds and acquired rights-of-way for an extension to Palmer Lake, a 50-mile route.[13] Some cyclists rode the 100-mile round trip, but many cyclists preferred to take their bikes on the train to Palmer Lake, a 2000' vertical gain, and ride mostly downhill to Denver.[14]

Palmer Lake is adjacent to the 15-mile (24 km) Santa Fe Regional Trail, which runs south through Monument to the southern boundary of the Air Force Academy and follows part of the old Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway. One of the largest continuous trails in El Paso County, the graveled route supports a wide variety of activities such as biking, hiking and horseback riding. Cross-country skiers and snowshoers enjoy the pathway in the winter.

The fishing in Palmer Lake is decent when stocked. A solid winter freeze provides the only opportunity to get out onto the lake itself. There is a Winterfest in late winter each year, which features a supervised skating rink out on the pond. There is also a fishing derby each summer, sponsored by the chamber of commerce.

The two reservoirs behind Palmer Lake are accessible by a trail used by hikers, bicyclists, snowshoers and fishermen. The lower reservoir is fenced off from the public, but the upper reservoir has an open shoreline. The mountains behind the town have a matrix of trails connecting visitors and residents to canyons and ridges. Most trails are accessible to hikers, mountain bikers, and horseback riders. Visitors are advised to bring a map or a local guide when exploring the trails, and should be aware of wildlife alerts and National Forest rules.

Palmer Lake Restoration Project[edit]

The namesake lake completely dried up by July 2012 due to drought and manmade changes in water management. In December 2014, the Awake Palmer Lake restoration group began dirt work to clear several feet of sediment from the north end of the Lake, exposing the top of the clay (benzonite) layer and filling the southern marsh with dirt. This served to restore the lake to its historical proportions and also to make it more sustainable for the future. The volunteer group was simultaneously working on a plan to have Palmer Lake refilled with water by spring 2014. The effort to refill Palmer Lake involves a court battle to win back water rights it said it was granted in the late 1950s. Town leaders in neighboring Monument have objected to Palmer Lake's request. A state Water Court hearing set for February was expected to settle the matter.[15]

In early December 2014, an extensive dirt work project was undertaken to restore the lake as close to its historical proportions as possible. In mid-December 2014 it was announced that the restoration committee had applied for, and received, a GOCO (Great Outdoors of Colorado) grant of matching funds to total $350,000 to be used to build a footbridge and recreational park around the lake on the west side of the railroad tracks.

In February 2015, an agreement was reached with the town on Monument, as well as other communities, which will allow the town of Palmer Lake to exercise senior railroad rights for the purpose of filling and maintaining the lake now and in the future.

2015 saw the wettest May in over 70 years, and the rains and spring activity naturally filled the lake by nearly 8 feet on the north end. On June 24, 2015, Palmer Lake water supervisor Steve Orcutt began sending 5.9 ac/ft of water into the lake. With Palmer Lake's old industrial water rights now officially changed to residential, the town can now fill the lake with up to 8.4 acre feet per month, and up to 67 acre feet per year. But the full amount used each month will continue to be donated by the level of that lake and the need for fresh water for other uses within the town. Drinking and household water needs will continue to have top priority over recreational and aesthetic uses. Advocates of the lake were hopeful that the Division of Wildlife would have the lake stocked with fish by fall 2015.[16][17]

Due to an error by a consultant to the Palmer Lake Restoration Project which made it appear as though the committee had not filed its tax returns for 3 consecutive years, in 2017 the IRS placed the committee on its “501(c)(3) status revoked” list, though tax returns had actually been timely filed, simply with an error as to the applicable Tax ID number. New professional tax consultants are in the process of remedying this error with the IRS, and retroactive restoration of the Palmer Lake Restoration Project's 501(c)(3) status is anticipated in the immediate future. All donations to the Palmer Lake Restoration Project (a/k/a Awake Palmer Lake), both prior and future, remain fully tax deductible.

Rockin' the Rails Park[edit]

On December 9, 2014, the public received notice that the Awake Palmer Lake committee had received a GOCO grant in the amount of $349,893 to be used for improvements around the Lake. The GOCO money is to be applied to what's being called the "Rockin' the Rails" Palmer Lake Railroad Park including a 90-foot overpass over the railway tracks, a disc golf course expansion, landscaped open space and restroom facilities on the park's west side. The bridge will consist of a flatbed railroad car raised 25 feet above the tracks with a staircase for pedestrians and a ramp on either side for bicyclists, wheelchairs and strollers. The park's overall themed will play up the town's history as a refueling stop for steam engines to be topped off with water between Colorado Springs and Denver. Union Pacific Railroad must first sign off on the engineering plan, as part of a review that could take up to three to four months.[15]

Palmer Lake Star[edit]

"Dizzy" at Palmer Lake City Hall

In 1935, B.E. Jack and Bert Sloan proposed the construction of a large Star of Bethlehem on the side of Sundance Mountain in Palmer Lake. The five-pointed star, measuring 457 feet (139 m) across and consisting of 91, 40-watt non-glare bulbs, is lit for the month of December and for other special occasions. Construction on the project was a community effort. The property on Sundance Mountain where the star was constructed was owned by Art and Reba Bradley, who donated the property to Palmer Lake in 1966. When Mrs. Bradley died in 1979, her estate provided funds to the Palmer Lake Fire Department for the maintenance of the star. In 1976, the star was completely rebuilt with new cable and steel pole in concrete as part of an American Revolutionary bicentennial project.

Bert Sloan said, "We tried to keep the town from dying and make it a good place to live. We wanted to do something the town could be proud of for many years, and the star did just that." Sloan's dog, Dizzy, helped to take tools and supplies to the workers on Sundance Mountain. Dizzy's statue at City Hall represents the spirit of volunteerism, particularly those who built the shining star. The statue of Dizzy was given to the citizens of Palmer Lake in October 2006 on the fiftieth anniversary of the Palmer Lake Historical Society.[18]

In February 2013, The Star of Palmer Lake was designated as a Colorado Historic site by History Colorado.


The earliest known area inhabitants were Native American tribes - the Mountain Ute, Arapahoe, Kiowa, and Cheyenne. The earliest recorded non-Native activity in the area was the Army's Major Stephen Long Expedition of 1820, which discovered the Colorado State Flower, the white and lavender columbine,[19] somewhere between Monument and Palmer Lake. Many homesteaded ranches and farms straddled the El Paso-Douglas County line as early as the 1860s. David McShane is credited with being one of the first homesteaders, 1865, in the Town of Monument. Henry Limbach and his family were also early arrivals and had much to do with planning and developing of Monument which prospered as the commercial hub for the area on arrival of the railroad.

Critical role and a refuge[edit]

General William J. Palmer came west after the Civil War to found the city of Colorado Springs and start the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad, a 3 ft (0.91 m) narrow-gauge line, in 1871. He purchased the land known as the Monument Farms & Lake Property. Palmer Lake was critical to the railroad because the steam trains chugged up to the Palmer Divide summit and had to fill up with water from the lake to head down the Divide. The lake was the only natural water supply available in the area. Passenger trains stopped in town for 10 minutes to take on water, or for a fee of $1.00 roundtrip from Denver, passengers could take the train to Palmer Lake for a day of picnicking, fishing, and boating or hiking.

Dr. William Finley Thompson purchased land and plotted the town of Palmer Lake in 1882, intending it as a health resort & vacation community. Thompson was an oral surgeon originally from Randolph, Ohio, who practiced in the Midwest and in London. He built the Queen Anne Victorian mansion Estemere in 1887 for his family, but by 1890 was facing bankruptcy and fled from his creditors. Prior to the automobile, Palmer Lake was a popular destination for Denverites and others wishing to beat the heat of city summer temperatures. The Rocky Mountain Chautauqua - a people's vacation university - was popular between 1887 and 1910, hosting programs in music, art, drama, religion, and nature. The Rockland, a 61-room hotel, provided all the amenities any visitor could wish for, including a petting zoo.

Beginnings of agriculture and the Air Force Academy[edit]

Historical industries in the area included fox farms, sawmills, angora rabbit farming, and dry-land potato and grain farming. Laborers also harvested ice from Monument and Palmer Lakes, and this industry continued until 1941. In 1894 there were over 20,000 acres (81 km2) under cultivation, but in 1895 a potato blight infected the soil and potato farming eventually stopped. At that time, Monument was famous for holding an annual "Potato Bake", a fall celebration where a free feast would be held just across the tracks from Front and Second Streets.

The land surrounding Palmer Lake and Monument remained largely ranch and farmland until the Air Force Academy was opened in 1958. Woodmoor, a township south of Palmer Lake and east of Monument, was originally planned to be an area where the staff of the Air Academy and other military retirees could take up residence. The land still kept to its ranching heritage until Colorado Springs growth spawned housing developments starting about the mid 1980s. Most growth along this part of the I-25 corridor has occurred since 1990.

The area has a remarkable history including events associated with the "wild west." Raids, scalpings and saloon shootings are part of this history. There were several forts in the area where settlers or travelers could take refuge until trouble passed. One of these is the "McShane Fort" located just off Highway 105, close to the railroad overpass bordering Monument and Palmer Lake. Law enforcement apprehended and executed murders in the Palmer Lake/Monument area. The area was also home to five gold mines, although gold was never found. The area has an extensive historical heritage. I'd say this small, county-side town has a remarkable story to tell.


Palmer Lake is served by SH-105. It runs Directly Through the town.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Active Colorado Municipalities". State of Colorado, Department of Local Affairs. Archived from the original on 2009-12-12. Retrieved 2007-09-01. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  2. ^ "Colorado Municipal Incorporations". State of Colorado, Department of Personnel & Administration, Colorado State Archives. 2004-12-01. Retrieved 2007-09-02.
  3. ^ "2016 U.S. Gazetteer Files". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved Jul 25, 2017.
  4. ^ "US Board on Geographic Names". United States Geological Survey. 2007-10-25. Retrieved 2008-01-31.
  5. ^ a b "Population and Housing Unit Estimates". Retrieved June 9, 2017.
  6. ^ "ZIP Code Lookup". United States Postal Service. Archived from the original (JavaScript/HTML) on September 3, 2007. Retrieved December 2, 2007. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  7. ^ "Profile of General Population and Housing Characteristics: 2010 Demographic Profile Data (DP-1): Palmer Lake town, Colorado". U.S. Census Bureau, American Factfinder. Retrieved April 11, 2012.
  8. ^ Brachfeld, Aaron (2014-06-22). "Big Trouble in Palmer Lake". 5 (28). Meadowlark Herald. Retrieved 7 July 2014.
  9. ^ "US Gazetteer files: 2010, 2000, and 1990". United States Census Bureau. 2011-02-12. Retrieved 2011-04-23.
  10. ^ "Census of Population and Housing". Retrieved June 4, 2015.
  11. ^ "American FactFinder". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2008-01-31.
  12. ^ (PDF). Palmer Lake Historical Society Retrieved 30 May 2018. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  13. ^ Noel, Tom (13 September 2013). "Noel: Bikes are nothing new in Colorado". The Denver Post. Retrieved 30 May 2018.
  14. ^ Kellett, Jim (14 April 2010). "Denver-Palmer Lake Bicycle Path". Retrieved 30 May 2018.
  15. ^ a b "'Awake Palmer Lake'-related efforts get boost with GOCO grant". Retrieved February 1, 2018.
  16. ^,193061
  17. ^ Kreutter/KKTV, Danielle. "Water Returns To Palmer Lake". Retrieved February 1, 2018.
  18. ^ Dizzy statue, Palmer Lake City Hall, Palmer Lake, Colorado
  19. ^ "Archives -". Retrieved February 1, 2018.

External links[edit]