Scenic Colorado Springs, Colorado, Tucked at the Foot of Pikes Peak, Boasts Blue Skies, an Eclectic Population, an Outstanding Hospital, an Award-Winning Senior Center and Plenty of Things to Do
Cost of Living: Above the National Average
When U.S. Army captain Zebulon Pike ventured west in 1806 and first spotted the Rocky Mountains soaring above the Great Plains, this area was wide-open country, home to antelope, tall grasses, expansive vistas and Arapahoe Native Americans. Today, the tall peak, Pikes Peak, named after this early explorer is the majestic backdrop for Colorado Springs (population 460,000), a pretty city with an eclectic population. It was founded as a resort town by William Palmer in 1871 and soon became known as "Little London," thanks to the many English aristocrats who came to enjoy its thermal waters and clean air. In later years, the city attracted people seeking relief from tuberculosis. After World War II, several military installations located here.
These days Colorado Springs is home not only to military personnel, but to college students, high-tech employees, evangelical Christians, old money families and retirees, too. In fact, people age 45 or better make up 33% of the population. Thirty-six percent of locals hold at least a four year college degree. Politics lean very much to the right, and the crime rate meets the national average. The city is racially diverse and has grown by 60% within the last decade or two. The cost of living is 5% above the national average.
The median home price is $215,000, and a good mix of newer subdivisions and older, established neighborhoods exists, with everything from modest ranch ramblers and cozy bungalows to stately Victorians along leafy Nevada Avenue. In the southwestern section of the city, Cheyenne Mountain is an upscale neighborhood with gorgeous custom homes. The Broadmoor (also a resort hotel) is world famous and is an exclusive area with multi-million dollar homes.
Colorado Springs, Colorado
Colorado is tax friendly when it comes to retirement. For residents age 55 to 64, up to $20,000 of retirement income, including Social Security, may be excluded from state income taxes (up to $24,000 of retirement income may be excluded for for people age 65 or better). Real estate is assessed at 7.96% of fair market value. The annual taxes on a $215,000 home are approximately $1,300. The state income tax is 4.63%. Food and prescriptions are exempt from the 2.9% state sales tax.
The city's economic base is primarily rooted in the military, the high-tech industry and tourism. The United States Air Force Academy, Fort Carson, Schriever Air Force Base, NORAD (inside Cheyenne Mountain) and Peterson Air Force Base are all here, as are major employers Boeing, L-3 Communications, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman. Numerous socially conservative organizations are here, too, including Focus on the Family and the New Life Church. The United States Olympic Committee has its headquarters here.
Over the years, Colorado Springs has benefited from a handful of wealthy benefactors. The beautiful Antlers Hotel, where Katherine Lee Bates stayed while composing America the Beautiful after visiting the top of Pikes Peak, was built by the city's founder William Palmer. In 1891, W.S. Stratton discovered one of the world's richest gold strikes in nearby Cripple Creek and poured money into Colorado Springs, building homes for poor children and donating land for city buildings.
Downtown is marked by wide streets (so designed in the early days to make it easier for horse-drawn wagons to make U-turns), parks, office buildings, banks, coffee shops, bookstores, Palmer High School and the main branch of Penrose Public Library, which has eight branches in the city and offers free wi-fi, loaner laptops, computer classes for people age 55+ and much more.
This is a city that is full of things to do, and it has a lot of tourist attractions (most are toward the mountains). Cave of the Winds, Garden of the Gods, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, Colorado Springs Pioneer Museum, Manitou Cliff Dwellings and Miramont Castle are just a few. The Pikes Peak Railway, which travels to the top of Pikes Peak, is the highest railway in the nation and starts just west of town.
Music lovers enjoy the professional Colorado Springs Philharmonic and the U.S. Air Force Academy Band, which offers free concerts. The Opera Theatre of the Rockies, the Colorado Springs Dance Theatre and the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center provide a bit of culture, as do theatrical events at the Broadmoor International Center and Colorado College (2,100 students). For dinner theater buffs, the Iron Springs Chateau Melodrama is always fun.
Colorado Springs has been named one of the fittest cities in the nation, and there are plenty of places to enjoy the outdoors. The city has a handful of 18-hole golf courses, and nearby Pike National Forest provides opportunities for hiking, camping, rafting, fishing and cross-country skiing. And, of course, one can always hike along the Barr National Recreation Trail to the top of 14,115 foot tall Pikes Peak. Or one can be sensible and just drive to the top via the beautiful Pikes Peak Highway.
The Citadel and Chapel Hills are the two large shopping malls, but retailers are all over town. Dining choices include everything from subway shops to white tablecloth bistros.
The city has two primary hospitals, one of which, Centura Health-Penrose St. Francis (two locations with combined 525 beds) is award-winning. In fact, it has been named a Top 50 Hospital for several years running. It is accredited by the Joint Commission and Medicare patients are accepted. The Colorado Springs Senior Health Center is a non-profit facility that offers specialized medical care to low income seniors. For military retirees, the city has a VA outpatient clinic, but the nearest VA hospital is in Denver, 65 miles to the north.
The beautiful 17,000 sq. ft. Colorado Springs Senior Center is award-winning and provides services to people age 55 or better. It has an art gallery, a ceramics room, a computer lab, an exercise room and more. Activities include movies, dances, safe driving classes, tax assistance, coffee get-togethers, cookouts, congregate noon meals and more. It also has a newcomers' orientation program, a "magnification station," a farmers market and a medical clinic. Silver Key Senior Services has a Meals on Wheels program and sponsors local outings. Listening In, at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, is a program that lets people age 55+ attend university classes on a space-available basis. No academic credit is earned, but the cost is only $30 per credit hour.
Mountain Metro is the public bus system (wheelchair accessible) and runs throughout the city. The adult fare is $1.75, but people age 60+ ride for $.85. A para-transit service is also available. The city has a regional airport, but the closest international airport is in Denver, 65 miles away.
The city sits at an elevation of 6,008 feet, and summers bring sunny skies with temperatures are the 70s, 80s and 90s. Winter temperatures are usually in the 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s. On average, the area receives 16 inches of rain and 40 inches of snow each year. The sun shines 245 days of the year, and on the comfort index, a combination of temperature and humidity, Colorado Springs is substantially above the national average.
The city has a few drawbacks. Traffic congestion is a problem along I-25 and on the eastern edges of town. Urban sprawl is an issue. It is also worth noting that the city received national attention at the start of the Great Recession when locals would not approve a large tax increase that they could not afford thanks to rising unemployment and businesses closing. The mayor at the time turned off street lights, limited garbage collection and stopped watering parks. The city elected a new mayor in 2011, reworked city government and then asked for a more affordable tax increase, which passed. Since then, Colorado Springs has been thriving.
Zeb Pike knew he was onto something special when he stumbled upon these big, blue skies, soaring mountains and sweeping vistas. Today, Colorado Springs' retirees know that they have found something special, too.
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