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Extra parks staff begins working soon for COVID-19 recovery in Colorado Springs

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) -- A new staff hired to help with COVID-19 recovery at parks, trails and open spaces in Colorado Springs won't be ready in time for the busy Independence Day weekend but will start work in two weeks.

When city officials first announced the hiring plan in late May, they said 16 people would be hired, using federal funding earmarked for pandemic recovery.

However, on Thursday, an official said 8 to 10 people have been hired and will start soon.

"We're going to end up having two teams of 4 to 5 individuals, and these two teams will be able to maneuver through our parks system and do a couple of very specific job duties," said Scott Abbott, a manager with the city's Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services.

"We're going to hit our bathrooms and be able to keep them clean at a greater frequency," he said. "We're going to keep delivering the message of social distancing and we're going to keep people spread out."

The city has 10 park rangers who do some monitoring of parks but only as part of their other normal duties. Some police officers also patrol parks but they have been pulled from that duty in lieu of street patrols for the holiday weekend.

"The most popular parks will get a lot of the focus," Abbott said. "Garden of the Gods, Red Rock Canyon, North Cheyenne Cañon Park, Memorial Park."

Social distancing in city parks had been a problem since Gov. Jared Polis ended his "Stay at Home" health order in late April. As people flocked back to parks, city officials became concerned and threatened to possibly restrict the use of -- or close -- parks unless social distancing improved.

Just before Memorial Day weekend, officials said they still weren't seeing enough social distancing, but the situation has now improved.

"I think we're finally seeing more compliance," Abbott said. "We hope that will continue."

Park visitors expressed mixed reaction to increased monitoring of parks.

"I don't think they should waste money to hire anybody," said Emily Rowe, of Colorado Springs.  "People are going to do what they want to do.  But it would feel like you were being watched all the time."

Shelby Wilkins, a college student from Texas, disagrees.

"It'd be great if people actually listened to advisors," she said. "But since they aren't, I do think that federal money needs to be used to create teams to kind of enforce those laws."

Paul Hentnik, from Washington state, said he sees both sides.

"I'm just glad they've kept the parks open here," he said. "Back home, most of them are restricted or closed."

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Scott Harrison

Scott is a reporter for KRDO. Learn more about Scott here.