Karen Palus, the city’s director of parks, recreation and cultural services, spent her childhood moving from place to place as a military officer’s daughter. She settled in Florida and stayed there 30 years before coming to Colorado Springs in 2012. Palus is a graduate of the University of South Florida and received a master’s in public administration at the University of Central Florida. Her extraordinarily diverse job responsibilities include the city’s entire parks and open space portfolio, city cemeteries, the City Auditorium, the Pioneers Museum and Pikes Peak.
I first visited Colorado Springs in April of 1997. I was so impressed by the park system and fell in love with the Garden of the Gods, North Cheyenne Cañon and Pikes Peak. I even have a photo album I share of all the incredible places I visited. The community and its natural beauty stuck with me, so 15 years later I accepted Mayor Steve Bach’s offer to join the city.
What do you like about Colorado Springs? How can we improve?
I have really enjoyed becoming a part of the community. From the team I have at Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services to the community groups and our volunteers, there is just an amazing amount of energy and pride that we share. This community was founded on its natural beauty and I am so proud of the way we all come together to take care of these precious spaces.
Every community has room for improvement and we seem to spend a lot of time looking at what we don’t have. I always suggest we spend more time on what we do have — we need to share our story. There are so many incredible people and things happening in our community that we should share and celebrate.
Tell us about your job history.
I have been fortunate to have lots of different jobs during my career. My most recent position was with the city of Tampa and before that in my hometown of Brevard County, Florida. When this opportunity came, I thought it would be a wonderful time in my career to make the move out West with my family. I am always up for adventure and love to learn new things so to have this opportunity was amazing. I feel so privileged to have been selected to lead and support this amazing family.
Tell us about your job.
I believe I have the best job in city government. My work focus changes daily. No two days are the same. The department has such a large operational purview that on a given day I can be working with our urban forest management team on forest mitigation, reviewing potential public art pieces, discussing perpetual care for our cemeteries, meeting with our advocates and friends group leaders and everything else in between.
“I believe I have the best job in city government.”
There’s been a lot of talk about the meeting on the summit of Pikes Peak last year that definitively launched the new Summit House project, after 20 years of false starts — can you tell us about it?
All of us (representatives of stakeholders) were standing inside the Summit House, observing how crowded it was, what the visitor experience was and we realized how it needed to change. It was Erin Connelly’s first week (as forest supervisor for the Pike National Forest) and she said, “OK, I’ll have an answer for you before we get down the mountain” — and that was the decisive moment. Everyone else followed suit. The need is clear — we’re 30,000 (summit visitors) up from last year, and we’ve already had 90,000 in July.
What do you do that’s not job-related?
When I’m not working events and programs I’m happiest enjoying time with my family and friends. My 8-year-old son keeps me and my husband busy running from activity to activity. We love being outdoors — you can find us enjoying a hike, rafting in the summer or on the slopes during the winter. Colorado has so much to offer and we have appreciated the time together to explore as a family.
We’re really focusing on taking care of what we have and making improvements to the park system. We’re excited about the new Summit House at 14,115 feet, and down at 6,035 feet we will be working with our partners on the Legacy Loop, a project first outlined by General William Jackson Palmer. We have John Venezia Community Park underway. We want to make sure that Garden of the Gods remains the No. 1 park in the nation. We’re also working on the Bikeshare project, which has been really successful in Denver — but our terrain is so hilly! My husband tells me, “Karen, you can’t make all of your trails downhill only.” Maybe we could offer bikes with an electric assist.
And I would just like to say a huge thank you to all the incredible nonprofits, volunteers, tremendous partners and my city team who make this community a truly special place to work.