An outpouring of pride – Palmer Lake brings back namesake with a splash

By Dennis Huspeni
The Gazette
Published after April 17, 2005 (the day of the event)

Imagine standing in Colorado Springs, looking west and not seeing Pikes Peak.

Palmer Lake residents don’t have to dream up such a blow to their civic pride. The drought stole their geographic namesake in recent years.

They proved Saturday that they’ll do most anything to get it back—drought be darned, water rights be darned, and naysayers be darned.

“It’s our namesake,” said Mary Meyer, 52, of Palmer Lake, “It’s been here forever. It’s an important part of the history of Palmer Lake.”

Some say it is the history of Palmer Lake.

Hundreds of residents lined the muddy banks of the 7, 235-foot-high lake Saturday and dumped containers of water into it. Dubbed the “Big Splash,” the event was organized by the Awake the Lake committee to mark the start of an effort to refill the drought-stricken lake.

“That’s why this town exists,” Committee Chairman Jeff Hulsmann said. “It was built around the lake.”

More than 80 percent of 2,200 residents told the committee they’d be willing to use their own drinking water to fill the lake. So officials tapped the town’s well and turned the spigot Saturday to begin the long process of pouring 9.7 million gallons of water into the lake.

“I can see it rising already, “the announcer yelled in mock drama as people turned water bottles upside down, heaved 5-gallon buckets, or simply tossed snowballs.

Mother Nature helped, too, after recent snows provided 2 to 3 feet of water to cover the lake bed.

The event also served as a fundraiser to help defray the $25,000 water bill from the city.

Organizers sold “Splash” T-shirts sand memorial bricks for a decorative walkway.

“It’s so sad when it’s empty,” said Doug Laufer, 52, a 10-year resident. “It’s almost embarrassing.”

Laufer said he admired the town’s pluck in trying to refill the 150-yard wide (when it’s full) lake. “It’s good to see these people carrying this water to the lake. That’s regular citizens showing their civic pride.”

Pride in the lake where steam locomotive engines from Denver in the early 1900s filled up with water on the way to Colorado Springs. Pride in the fishing hole where generations of kids have drowned bait in the summer and ice skated in the winter. Pride in the place where the town gathers on the Fourth of July to watch the fireworks reflected off the surface.

“Where else can you grab a fly rod from the garage, walk three blocks and catch” a 22-inch rainbow trout? Said Larry Meyer, a committee member. “Some people think we’re wasting water and money, but recreation, isn’t that important, too?”

Colorado Division of Wildlife officials, who haven’t stocked the lake in years because of the dangerously low water levels, vowed to stock it this summer if the water is high enough.

Hulsmann, a local restaurant owner, said this tapping into the town’s well was a one-time fix. They hope to secure the water storage rights to get water from a nearby reservoir to feed the lake.

He points out that even though it’s a natural lake, it’s always been helped by man in one form or another.

“This is enough to make the lake viable this summer,” Hulsmann said.

Lifelong, second-generation resident Ethel Engel and her husband, Bill, brought a wooden bucket they believe is as old as the town, and her father’s tin watering can from the 1940s, full of water to pour into the lake.

“That was in memory of my dad,” said Ethel Engel, of her late father, Steve Lavelett.

“This is the focal point of the community,” she said. “I’d hate to see it dry up and go away.”

Her memories of walking down the railroad track to school as a young girl, lake water lapping almost to the track, will never dry up.

“It’s no longer “Palmer Pond,” Palmer Lake Bed,” or even simply “Palmer.”

It’s Palmer Lake.