From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Debbie Kelley):
Once a little-known hangout for locals, Guffey Gorge, nicknamed Paradise Cove, has become such a sought-after taste of the tropics in landlocked Colorado that big changes are afoot.
The Bureau of Land Management wants to turn the remote swimming hole in Park County into a legitimate recreational attraction.
Paradise Cove has remained a largely unmonitored, carefree summer indulgence, where the adventurous dive from tall cliffs – up to 100 feet high – into a small deep pool, to the awe of onlookers.
“It’s a well-known spot to go to swim and lounge around,” said Kym Trutwin, a recent Pikes Peak Community College graduate who grew up in Teller County. “A big part of the appeal is that it’s completely natural and tucked away in the woods. It’s a peaceful area – a public space that gives you a sense of privacy.”
In the last 15 years, more people have been seeking out Paradise Cove, located off County Road 102 outside the small town of Guffey. On average, 18,000 people now visit the site each year, with usage peaking in July with more than 6,000 visitors. Most are Front Range urbanites between the ages of 16 and 30, BLM research says.
But empty beer bottles, fast food wrappers and other trash, along with human waste and dog doo, have tarnished the hidden gem.
The increased usage has adversely impacted the environment and raised safety concerns, according to a proposed BLM business plan for the area.
As a result, BLM wants to build a designated parking lot with easier access to the trailhead, add permanent restrooms, charge a $6 per vehicle daily admittance fee, ban alcohol, require dogs to be leashed, provide trash receptacles, install picnic tables and increase policing of the area.
Those steps would reduce health risks to downstream water users, lessen soil erosion and damage to vegetation and pay for the improvements, BLM officials say.
Public comments on the draft business plan are being accepted through May 13 at the Royal Gorge Field Office, 719-269-8500, email comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or go to http://blm.gov/co/st/en/fo/rgfo/planning/guffey_gorge_ea.html.
“If a comment is substantive and something that should be included or changed in the business plan, we will include it in the document,” said BLM spokesman Kyle Sullivan.
The Front Range Resource Advisory Council will review the final business plan and decide whether to approve it, Sullivan said. Construction of the parking area and installation of a vault toilet, bear-proof trash receptacle and picnic table would be done during next year’s off-season, with the fee starting May 15, 2017. The fee would be charged May 15 through Sept. 30 each year and raise an estimated annual revenue of $16,000 to $26,000.
‘It takes your breath away’
After hiking half a mile across Fourmile Creek and through a lush valley, the sound that something out of the ordinary lies ahead reaches trekkers before the sight of the scenic canyon.
Loud slaps can be heard while hiking an incline that gives way to the cove. The noise is the bodies of divers hitting the water.
Entering the waterfall-fed pool is the worst part of leaping off the granite cliffs that have outcroppings of various heights, some say.
“It’s freezing” is the most common complaint about the water, even in the heat of the summer.
“It takes your breath away,” one diver said last August, shivering as she emerged from the pool.
A shallow end accommodates waders, and large boulders provide viewpoints from which to watch the cliff jumping. Signs warn of the dangers of diving but don’t seem to deter many of the brave or foolhardy.
For some, the apparent impending changes will mark the end of an era, like the death of the drive-in.
“It’s pretty natural and mostly untouched,” Trutwin said, adding that she hopes nothing will detract from the area’s beauty.
Erik Kjelland, who works in the health care industry in Teller County, said he isn’t in favor of any changes.
“I think it should be left the way it is, as a beautiful natural resource and recreation area,” he said. “It’s a gorgeous place to cool your feet.”
The BLM’s Royal Gorge Field Office has been working for more than a decade to address “resource issues” at Paradise Cove, the agency’s Sullivan said.
Restrictions aimed at reducing impacts to the environment started in 2005, with the banning of motorized vehicles, glass containers and campfires, and limiting usage to daylight hours and prohibiting overnight camping.
Porta-potties have been added in recent years, along with designated parking.
The most recent environmental assessment started in 2013 and was finished last year. It included input from cove-goers, the general public and the local community.
The 80-acre site is surrounded by private land. Locals want stricter regulations because they say Paradise Cove has become a popular destination for underage drinking and partying. Users are often loud and noisy, leave their trash behind, disrespect nearby property owners and get drunk or use drugs, creating a potential for safety issues, according to public comments previously made.
Trutwin said commercializing the area might make it even more dangerous, though.
“It might make it too crowded in the summer on warm days when people want to go there the most,” she said. “The more crowded that space gets, the more dangerous the area around the water might become.”
Among the alternatives considered were closing the area entirely or banning diving. Neither of those options are suggested in the draft proposal.