At first glance, life for those living in a secluded enclave of cabins tucked between towering granite rock and nestled below gigantic pines at North Cheyenne Cañon Park appears to be serene.
But on most nights, it isn’t, residents say.
Each year, more than 450,000 people shuttle in and out of the park, in southwest Colorado Springs, to explore the extended trail system. Some, though, are in search for a place to party. By nighttime, areas of the historic park are taken over by rowdy gatherings featuring alcohol, drugs and guns.
The illegal activity, including drug use, gunfire and vandalism after hours in the 1,600-acre park, has prompted city officials to close its gates from 9 p.m. through 5 a.m.
“They think they’re alone up here, doing their thing, drinking, partying,” said eight-year resident Becky Fairchild. “They’re not.”
While the “riff-raff” calms down in the winter months, she said she hears people screaming — their voices echoing through the canyon — almost every night in the summer. She often shoos drunk people off her property and hears gunshots on a regular basis.
Around the July Fourth holiday, she said, bottle rockets soared over homes as people shot them off from one side of Gold Camp Road to the other.
“It was real, real scary,” she said.
She often finds graffiti, broken glass and live trees cut down while on walks near her home. She and her neighbors clean up after the partiers at least once a week, toting garbage bags through the woods, she said.
Since the city began its after-hour gate closures about a week ago, it’s been quiet, she said.
Resident Jim Herron recalled his shock when he moved to the park two years ago from Tennessee, where recreational shooting wasn’t rare, but never in a public park.
“This is nuts,” Herron said, recounting when bullets struck his neighbor’s house and car’s side-view mirror. “Turns out you’re walking into craziness.
“You expect to be protected, but to get a policeman up here, it takes about 30 minutes,” Herron said.
Herron often took pictures of the rebellious crowds — many in their 20s and 30s — and sent them to the police as documentation. “You’re afraid you’re going to have to defend yourself some nights,” he said.
His simple request: “Please stop shooting,” often yielded little results, he said.
“It’s like Grand Central Station up there between 11 and 3,” he said, describing the countless needles littered across the park’s upper parking lot.
On Sunday mornings, he used to lug two gallons of water into the forest near his refurbished coal miner’s cabin to douse fires.
Herron hopes the nightly lockdown curbs the amount of reckless behavior happening in his backyard. In the past week, his wife has seen fewer cars racing through the park’s winding roads as she drives home from work at Schriever Air Force Base.
“Anything’s got to help,” Herron said, commending the city parks department’s efforts to fix the problem.
Kurt Schroeder, parks maintenance and operations manager, said he hopes the gate closures will benefit “the long-term health and safety” of the park and those living nearby.
Reports of illegal activities after hours prompted the city to close gates at Garden of the Gods in 2018 and Palmer Park in 2015.
“The bottom line; the park is closed,” he said.
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