The quaint ranching town of Elizabeth, Colorado, consists of about 1,800 people, a bank, a store, a gas station, a bar, not one but two saddle shops...and a labyrinth.
The labyrinth arrived when local residents Connie and Jeff Lehman reluctantly got involved with their city government. Located on the eastern plains between Denver and Colorado Springs, Elizabeth faces the threat of rapid change from a largely rural community to a suburban subdivision. When a large developer bought a tract of land near town, Connie and Jeff decided they had to become actively involved in determining the shape of their community. “We flipped a coin and Jeff lost, so he had to be the one to be on the town board,” Connie says. To ease his pain, however, she accompanies him to meetings.
The couple wanted to get Elizabeth’s residents—town board and community members—out on the surrounding land where they could see the value of preserving some of the high plains, open grasslands, and groves of piñon pines that could soon be gobbled up by bulldozers.
Connie had recently read The Mists of Avalon (Del Rey Publishers, 1987) by Marion Zimmer Bradley, a story of King Arthur’s court from the vantage point of the women of the court. A labyrinth in the story had stuck in Connie’s mind, and she’d mentioned it to Jeff. Then one Sunday morning last May, he brought her a feature on labyrinths from the New York Times. “It changed my life,” she says.
Immediately Connie recognized that creating a labyrinth in Elizabeth was the ideal community project she had sought. She went to the town manager, who, to her surprise, knew about labyrinths and loved the idea. She went to the town board who, with little debate, agreed to set aside a vacant city property at the edge of town and establish a small fund to buy rocks.
Whether it was Connie’s enthusiasm for the idea or the magic of labyrinths themselves, it was amazingly easy to get her project off the ground. Nearly everyone who heard about the idea liked it. Through word of mouth, in just a few months she raised enough money, about $470, to buy seven tons of river rock. “I thought seven tons of rock would be huge,” she says, “but when they were delivered, we had them placed in four piles and they didn’t really look that big.”
On a freezing cold day in October, “the first cold day of the fall,” seventy people showed up to place the stones. Connie brought in three people who had built a labyrinth in Woodland Park, Colorado to advise, and the group followed the map of the eleven-circuit labyrinth of Chartres cathedral. First, they spread mulch over the site, then the town manager pounded a metal stake in the middle. They used a string to plot a path two and a half feet wide. Next, people filled wheelbarrows with rocks and began working their way outward from the stake along the path, placing the rocks as they went. Building the complete labyrinth took about two hours.
While Elizabeth still faces a divisive future, with many townspeople disagreeing about how much growth and change is good for the area, Connie believes the labyrinth has helped community members forge relationships with each other and with the land. “I really feel the power of the labyrinth over the town, honoring the land.”
Community labyrinths are popping up in many places, and each one is unique. The Elizabeth labyrinth offers a great sense of solitude. “Most labyrinths are in big cities,” Connie says. “Because ours is in a small town, very few people walk it at the same time.” And unlike labyrinths affiliated with churches and institutions, the Elizabeth labyrinth never closes.
To visit the Elizabeth labyrinth, take I-25 South from Denver to Highway 86. Go east from I-25 at Castle Rock to Elizabeth. At Elizabeth Street, turn south and travel to West Elm. Turn east and proceed to Pine Ridge Drive. Turn South on Pine Ridge and go to Road 136. The labyrinth is located on the corner of Pine Ridge and 136.
“I really feel the power of the labyrinth over the town, honoring the land.”