COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) -- Vandalism and other damage to the Paint Mines Interpretive Park near Calhan in northeastern El Paso County will be repaired with approximately $328,000 from federal CARES Act funding.
Earlier this week, El Paso County commissioners voted 4-0 to approve the allocation, with commissioner chairman Mark Waller absent.
Waller has previously expressed the need for more enforcement at and monitoring of the park.
The county wants to repair current damage -- and prevent future damage -- caused by recent vandalism as well as increased visitation and overcrowding of trails and parking lots during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"This project qualifies for CARES Act funding because the pandemic is largely responsible for the situation that the park is in," said Greg Stachon, a landscape architect with El Paso County Parks. "The number of visitors has tripled, and the park really wasn't designed for that."
Repair work will focus on resurfacing and adding shoulders along some trails, closing some trails and creating some new trails.
"We think most of the damage is caused by people who aren't clear about where they can and can't go," Stachon said. "Posting more signs and putting up fences should help with that. I know that people climb the rocks anyway, even with the existing signs. But we'll keep reminding them to not do that."
Workers also will install drainage culverts as well as fences and signs, build trail drainage structures and expand one of three existing parking lots.
"On busy days, the main parking lot overflows and people park on the road shoulders," Stachon said. "That just isn't safe."
Stachon said as a result, the parking lot near the overlook rim is used heavily and because it's the shortest route to the colorful rock formations.
"There's a steep hill that goes down to the trail," he said. "That trail isn't supposed to be there and formed when people used it as a shortcut. It's a much steeper trail than we would allow, so we'll be closing that trail and restoring the area."
Stachon said a safety fence will be installed around the rim, an area that serves as a popular overlook.
Park visitors discussed the situation Thursday; among them, Jacob Roadhouse and his girlfriend, Sarah Hicks, from Denver.
"I think it's cool that people are getting outside more, but it's a shame it's under these circumstances," Roadhouse said. "It's great that the county is putting money into investing in these sites."
Ashley Jones, from North Carolina, said she learned about the Paint Mines by looking at Instagram photos.
"Some of the photos had people actually on top of some of the rocks," she said. "In the comments, people were saying that they shouldn't post those videos because this is exactly what people shouldn't be doing."
Stachon said a contractor will begin working on the project within a few weeks and be completed before the end of the year.
"We're on a tight schedule because if we're not finished by the end of the year, we lose the funding, he said."
The El Paso County Sheriff's Office is conducting extra patrols around the park after hours, and Stachon said the nearby Calhan Police Department has offered to help.