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Karen Palus credits her father, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel, with instilling in her a “leadership heart.”

“My dad set that example well for me,” Palus said. “He always showed me what servant leadership looked like — not only putting your life on the line for your country, but also when he retired.”

The Florida native followed that leadership heart to Colorado Springs seven years ago, when she became director of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services. A constant learner who thrives on new challenges, Palus relishes the opportunity to grow the city’s future leaders.

“There is always something new to learn,” Palus said. “Hopefully I’m setting that good example for my team, that there’s new ways to solve things.”

Green space has been a priority in Colorado Springs since founder Gen. William Jackson Palmer designed the city’s original plat around three parks — Antlers, Acacia and Alamo Square. Today’s batch of “ultra users” still consistently choose the city’s parks as a place to exercise and congregate, and Palus does not take her stewardship lightly.

“It’s who we are as a community, and parks are that fabric,” Palus said. “We’re what keeps our community connected. Our outdoor spaces are incredibly important to them, or they wouldn’t be ultra users.”

Palus said the opportunity to create healthy outlets for a community of multifaceted passions — from the outdoors to the arts — is what drew her to Colorado Springs.

“That’s something that’s always been really near and dear to my heart, is seeing people grow in the variety of interests that they may have within their community,” Palus said. “I love being able to be in a community where you have so many opportunities at your fingertips — whatever that passion may be, you can experience it here at home.”

Colorado Springs residents have plenty of reasons to stay in town these days, as Olympic City USA is consistently ranked among the nation’s most desirable places to live — thanks in no small part to Palus and her team.

“I always remind my team, ‘That’s you — that’s the part of the work that you’re doing in this community and how valuable it is not only from the parks side, but from the view of what’s important in our community and what people see,’” Palus said.

“We’ve just continued to move forward and excel through the transitions in government. We’ve really continued that forward momentum as a community, and we’re seeing that in the recognitions our community is receiving.”

Balancing the needs and desires of a diverse community is a challenge, but Palus said it is one of the best challenges someone can have.

“We have so many volunteers and community supporters that really want to advocate for our parks system. Not everybody’s community has that,” Palus said. “A lot of times you are that single voice, and here in Colorado Springs we have a large voice that supports our park system. … We’re just really fortunate to have what I call the perfect storm of folks who are willing to come and provide financial support, provide time and energy in our sites, and continue to give back day in and day out, year after year.”