Updated: April 17, 2014 at 9:58 am
Garden of the Gods is No. 1 — but don't start cheering yet.
Turns out that the iconic Colorado Springs park that draws nearly 2 million visitors a year is also a favorite of thieves, police figures show.
During the first three months of 2014, thieves broke into parked vehicles at Garden of the Gods more frequently than any other park or open space offering hiking trail access, according to a Colorado Springs police analysis of nine such areas.
Of the 69 break-ins cited during the first quarter of the year, nearly 1 in 3 happened at Garden of the Gods.
"It's been an ongoing problem at the Garden," said John Demmon, president of Friends of Garden of the Gods. "We're still having problems."
Among recent thefts was a Dec. 14 break-in in which a thief or thieves made off with nearly $22,000 worth of photography equipment, said Colorado Springs police spokeswoman Lt. Catherine Buckley. Two other cameras worth $3,000 have been stolen from vehicles more recently, she said.
The park's top-place standing comes during a banner year for open space crooks: Police found a 68 percent increase in trailhead thefts during the first quarter of 2014 compared with the same period last year.
The numbers show the burglaries are only expected to increase as summer approaches, bringing more tourists, more trail users and more parked cars.
Although police didn't review every park in the area, their analysis captured some of the more visited recreational areas in the city.
North Cheyenne Cañon Park drew the second highest number of thefts, accounting for 20 percent of burglaries at the nine parks examined.
Rounding out the dubious top 5 are Red Rock Canyon Open Space, with a 19 percent share; Palmer Park, with 12 percent; and Bear Creek Regional Park, with 11 percent.
What's behind the increase is anybody's guess, but police say the solution to stemming the tide is deceptively simple: In short, always lock your doors and don't bring valuables to the trailhead. If you do, carry them with you.
"As individuals, they are going to have better luck preventing it themselves — through general awareness and not leaving things in plain view," said officer Sid Santos, a crime prevention specialist whose district covers four of the five areas examined in the analysis.
Trying to hide a purse or wallet under a blanket or newspaper is unlikely to fool anybody, said Santos, who also discourages people from leaving doors unlocked in hopes of avoiding a smashed window.
"I would never do that because I don't want people in my car any way you look at it," Santos said.
He also recommended that people log serial numbers of their valuables on reportit.leadsonline.com so stolen possessions can be returned if they are recovered by police.
The problem has long been on the radar at Garden of the Gods, but with so many visitors in so many parking lots, curbing theft is a challenge, said Scott Abbott, the city's regional parks, trails and open space supervisor.
"It's all about (thieves) traveling around all day and looking in the lots for something valuable," he said.
Although methods vary, police say that thieves generally sit in their vehicles and wait for visitors to leave their cars unattended before smashing a window.
For that reason, if people plan on hiding items in their trunk, they should do so before arriving at a park or open space, Santos said.
Garden of the Gods has one full-time ranger assigned to the park, and supervisors are interviewing candidates for a second full-time position.
But that doesn't mean people should let their guard down.
Rangers are "constantly roaming the parks," Abbott said, "but they can't be everywhere."