Steve Shoultz, Douglas County’s assistant director of parks, trails and building grounds, watched in 2020 as people flocked to parks. Parks and trails throughout the county saw a rise in traffic amid the COVID-19 pandemic, he said, as they offered safer areas to go and socialize.
And one of the more popular spots proved The Bluffs Regional Park, located adjacent to the City of Lone Tree and providing connections to Highlands Ranch trails.
Its proximity to the Denver metro area combined with sweeping views of the Front Range make it a popular recreational area in the county, Shoultz said, and one that’s been steadily increasing in usage before and during the pandemic.
Traffic counts at The Bluffs reached 168,785 in 2018, 169,644 in 2019, and jumped to 215,261 in 2020. The annual traffic count in 2021 is projected to reach 172,953. When the county began recording traffic counts in 2014, annual traffic was 152,141.
“This year’s data is showing that we’re going to trend back down from that spike that we saw last year, but not by much,” Shoultz said.
Shoultz noted the county’s rank as second healthiest county in the nation, according to lists prepared by U.S. News and World Report. Many residents value fitness and the outdoors, he said, which Shoultz believes contributes to parks’ popularity each year.
With more use comes some obstacles. The county occasionally sees visitors mistreat the parks, he said.
At The Bluffs, people make carvings in a rock monument along the trail. The county replaced plaques on its benches with iron plates that are “a little less defaceable,” Shoultz said. “Social trails” have also popped up, he said, or paths that form from people taking shortcuts off the official trail.
The county tries to prevent social trails through education and signage, which doesn’t always work.
“They will break them off and throw them off in the weeds,” he said.
Still, weather affects maintenance issues more than trail users co, Shoultz said. Staff try to manage the flow of water from rain, which can erode the park and especially one with steep grades like those at The Bluffs.
“The Bluffs is a specifically challenging site because what makes it great makes it hard to maintain,” he said.
Shoultz said it’s up to everyone to help keep parks beautiful so more people can enjoy them.
On Aug. 4, Wendy Loyd and Lasinda Crane trekked up a hill at The Bluffs to catch up after Loyd returned from a trip out of town. The two have frequented the park for several years.
“The Bluffs is our place,” Crane said.
They enjoy the wildlife, like deer that stroll through the area, and they have noticed an increase in traffic, the women said.
“I like it and don’t like it because you know, it’s nice coming out early and having it to yourself,” Loyd said.
Crane nodded as Loyd reflected on the rise in traffic, but said she understands why the area is growing in use.
“It’s such a beautiful spot,” Crane said. “You see everywhere, 360.”
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