Times were a lot simpler in the 19th Century. If you were a European explorer wandering through the Colorado mountains, you gave names to rivers and mountains, lakes and creeks, and whatever else caught your fancy.
A mountain long known as Tava became James Peak, then Pike’s Peak, and later lost its apostrophe to become Pikes Peak. Gen. William J. Palmer dubbed a nearby hill Cameron’s Cone, after his close associate Gen. James Cameron, and the city Palmer founded repaid the favor by designating a few hundred acres of scruffy hills as Palmer Park.
A pretty little stream that, emerging at the foot of Ute Pass, drains much of the Pikes Peak watershed was known to French trappers as La Fontaine qui Bouille, because of the soda springs that lined its banks at the site of present-day Manitou Springs. That lyrical name was Anglicized to become today’s Fountain Creek.
Fountain Creek is still a fine name, but as we discussed in a recent office conversation, it’s no longer appropriate for the mature stream that is created at the confluence of Fountain and Monument creeks.
The combined streams drain hundreds of square miles. Augmented by hard-surface runoff and water imported from other drainages by Colorado Springs Utilities, the pretty little stream deserves a new name:
“That’s the name General Palmer gave it,” observed former Colorado Springs Vice Mayor Larry Small, who now serves as executive director of the Fountain Creek Flood Control and Greenway Authority. “If you read his diaries, that’s the original name. It’s a river, all right — we’ve tubed down it for a mile or so near Clear Springs Ranch.”
Changing the name would entail a ponderous bureaucratic process. Here’s an excerpt from the relevant federal regulations:
“Proposals to change the name of a natural feature may be submitted to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names. However, there must be a compelling reason. The Board is responsible by law for standardizing geographic names throughout the Federal Government, and discourages name changes unless necessary.
“Generally the most important policy is local use and acceptance.
“Upon receipt of a proposal, all interested parties will be asked to comment. The Board makes decisions only with recommendations from the local government, county government, the State Names Authority (in 50 States, the District of Columbia, and 2 Territories), and appropriate land management agencies. Only name proposals for natural features will be accepted … changing a name merely to correct or re-establish historical usage is not in and of itself a reason to change a name.”
So why bother?
First, because that was Palmer’s initial wish. But that’s just the beginning of our list of legitimate reasons.
In politics, perception is reality. Cameron’s Cone is a cone-shaped mountain, at least as seen from Colorado Springs. Pikes Peak is a peak and more — it could be called Pikes Range.
There’s a reason our iconic mountain wasn’t named “Zebulon’s Hill.” Fountain Creek at Manitou is a creek, but Fountain Creek at its confluence with the Monument is a small river — and where it merges with the Arkansas, it’s a river by any measure.
Renaming the creek from its initial source in Teller County will focus the attention of area residents on today’s river, not yesterday’s bucolic stream. Monument Creek would become the Monument Fork of the Fountain River.
As we move toward establishing a regional stormwater authority, it’s appropriate to align words with reality.
Thanks to the ill-fated city Stormwater Enterprise, recent polling indicates that “stormwater” is a tarnished brand. Nearly half of the likely voters who are familiar with the Stormwater Enterprise have an unfavorable opinion of it, so rebranding is in order.
“City-County Stormwater Enterprise?” Definitely not — I can almost see the pallid form of Douglas Bruce, rising to fight yet another “rainwater tax.”
Rivers flood, floods need to be controlled, and someone has to pay.
AMAFCA’s purpose is to prevent injury or loss of life, and to eliminate or minimize property damage. AMAFCA does this by building and maintaining flood-control structures.
Fountain River. Sounds sensible, reasonable and obvious, doesn’t it? We’d all vote for it, our problems would diminish year by year, and even Larry Small would benefit.
Some of his former colleagues on City Council are fond of teasing him, noting that he’s gone from vice mayor to the boss of a creek. But rename the creek, and presto!
Larry Small, Rivermaster.