Though the park is just south of the town of Beulah, it’s a Pueblo city park.
Eleven guest rooms in the center’s west wing opened in October and are available year-round for anyone wanting to get away from it all. In winter, slap on a pair of snowshoes and spend a day in the woods. In summer, hike to your heart’s content. It’s also available for group retreats.
Purchased by the city in 1920 for $6,000, the 611 acres of forested hills and valleys are home to mule deer, black bears, wild turkeys, gray and red foxes, bobcats, an occasional mountain lion, black squirrels, and numerous species of songbirds and various raptors.
Bordering San Isabel National Forest, the idea behind the park’s inception was to give Pueblo residents a place to explore and enjoy nature, says Dave Van Manen, founder and director of the Mountain Park Environmental Center, a non-profit organization that manages the property.
The centerpiece of the park is the Visitors’ Center and Horseshoe Lodge, originally built in the late 1930s by the Work Projects Administration as a retreat for scout groups and church camps, among others. The building wasn’t insulated, had no indoor plumbing and had fallen into a poor state of repair since the 1970s due to lack of use.
The 14,000-square-foot, U-shaped lodge has been undergoing a three-year, $1.2 million transformation, with money raised from donations, fundraisers and grants.
In addition to the guest rooms, the renovation has created administrative offices, the visitors’ center and classrooms in the curve of the horseshoe. The building is ADA-compliant (handicapped accessible), says co-operations manager Kim Toman.
Some rooms have private baths, and some share bathrooms. All now have insulation and storm windows on the original windows, which could not be replaced because the park and lodge are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
State-of-the-art “green” composting toilets and other amenities make it an environmentally friendly lodge. The $5,000 dishwasher washes 45 dishes in 90 seconds with 1½ gallons of water (yes, really). Because water is so scarce in the park, leisurely showers are discouraged. Guests get a token for each night’s stay – worth a five-minute shower. Lather up and rinse quickly!
Rooms are charmingly decorated with themes – the hummingbird room has hummingbird murals and the butterfly bathroom is a sight to behold. All the murals were done by volunteer artists.
The original oak floors are in amazingly good shape and have been refinished. Some rooms have regular beds, and some have double bunks – that is, heavy log bunk beds that fit a double-size mattress on top and bottom.
Whenever there are guests in the lodge, a cook will be on duty to prepare meals, which are eaten in a communal dining room on cloth-covered picnic tables.
The next task is renovating the east wing, which will include four dormitory-style rooms (housing up to 50 guests) and improved restrooms.
The environmental center also offers dozens of day programs, many for school children. Because the Pueblo school district, like most, has cut back on class outings, the environmental center buses pick up the children at school and bring them out for their outdoors education programs.
“I’ve always seen us as a program-driven organization,” Van Manen says. “The park exists so people can come out and enjoy nature. But it seems like they need a reason to come – the programs give them the excuse they need.”
Full-moon hikes, evening yoga classes, ranger interpretation programs and arts and crafts sessions for children are on tap nearly every weekend.
If You Go
Horseshoe Lodge 9112 Mountain Park Road, Beulah, CO 81023
For information call 719-485-4444
To find out about upcoming programs, log on to www.hikeandlearn.org or call 719-485-4444.
Linda DuVal is a freelance writer who lives in Colorado Springs.