The Fountain Creek Valley

Fountain Creek rises on the Palmer Divide, north of Colorado Springs, and flows southward  to join the Arkansas River at Pueblo, Colorado.  En route, it receives numerous western tributaries from the Rampart Range and the Pike's Peak massif and eastern tributaries from the Black Forest region and the High Plains.  Paralleling Interstate 25, Fountain Creek flows west of that highway north of Colorado Springs and east of the Interstate south of that city.

While most of the Fountain Creek Valley is now a patchwork of industrial parks, urban development, suburban sprawl and military bases (including the Air Force Academy), there are a number of regional parks that protect its natural heritage; I visited two of those parks today.  Fountain Creek Regional Park lies west of U.S. 85, less than a mile south of Colorado 16 (at the southern end of Colorado Springs).  Its interpretive center introduces visitors to the natural history of the Valley and a fine network of trails provides access to the riparian corridor, winding past marsh-lined ponds, groves of cottonwoods, colorful meadows and the creek itself.  As one might expect, a wide variety of riparian birds, aquatic mammals, amphibians and reptiles inhabit the preserve.

At the northern (upper) end of the Fountain Creek Watershed is Black Forest Regional Park; this forest, named for the dark appearance of its ponderosa pines when viewed from a distance, endured a massive wildfire in June, 2013.  The preserve, off Shoup Road east of Colorado 83, offers the amenities of a suburban park but also harbors a network of trails that wind through the pine forest, which is slowly recovering from the fire.  Wildflowers, meadow grass and understory shrubs provide color amidst the devastation and some groves of ponderosa pine survived the inferno.  Indeed, on my visit today, I saw an excellent diversity of montane forest birds, including western bluebirds, pygmy nuthatches, Townsend's solitaires, Steller's jays and a host of woodpeckers.  It was also heartening to find that many homes and a new school have been built since the catastrophe, a testament to both the fortitude of the residents and the appeal of living on that high, scenic ridge.