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COBWEB CORNERS: When the city bought Balanced Rock

By Mel McFarland

        I have told the story of some of the early political battles over Balanced Rock. Today we will see when the city of Colorado Springs finally added it to the Garden of the Gods in 1932.
       Way back to the 1870s and the area's first tourists, Balanced Rock was a popular photo stop. In the late 1800s, Paul Goerke purchased the area where the big rock sat, as well as an adjacent area called Mushroom Park.
       As more and more tourists arrived, the rock became increasingly popular. By the 1920s, it was owned by Paul Goerke's son Curt, and he was having a harder and harder time controlling access. Conflict among the tourists, the city of Manitou and Goerke, and later the City of Colorado Springs, threatened to become violent.
       On several occasions Goerke threatened to put up a fence, and even did so now and then, to keep his property out of public view. He also tried a toll road, but it was not really successful, as the best rocks could be seen from a distance.
       When there were few cameras in the hands of tourists, photographers gave Goerke a percentage of the money they made selling pictures of his rock. The Goerkes published a book of photos in 1905, titled “Views of the Garden of the Gods.”
       Once the camera became popular with the visitors, income from professional photography declined. Curt Goerke sold postcards, but the tourists managed to sneak their own pictures. This only increased the hostility about access to the site.
       The cause of the pressure was the Perkins family having given the majority of the Garden of the Gods to the City of Colorado Springs in 1906. The western area, including the rock, was not part of the Perkins property, but many people simply did not understand, and expected free access to this part too.
       You may remember there are other Balanced Rocks in the area. At last count I have learned of six, but this is the best known.
       In the 1920s, the City of Manitou sought to buy the Goerke land, but the price and access were difficult to negotiate.
       In the late 1920s Colorado Springs worked to obtain the property. An offer of $25,000 was made.
       On February 20, 1932, the issue was settled. Balanced Rock was formally made part of the Garden of the Gods. At 2 p.m., at a strange ceremony, the fence came down! There was a band, a parade of Boy Scouts, speeches and still more confusion about traffic in the area. But the fence was finally GONE!

(Posted 11/23/15; Opinion: Cobweb Corners)

       Editor's note: Local historian Mel McFarland has been writing his Cobweb Corners column in the Westside Pioneer since 2004. To see past columns, go to the Pioneer's Archives. Either look for desired articles under the Cobweb Corners category for any year, or search by keywords in the Find box.

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