DENVER — In 2016, Denver’s Cherry Creek Trail was in the news in a bad way. It had become an open-air drug market, with users shooting up with heroin in broad daylight.
Five years later, much of that crime has moved away from the trail and into other areas of the city.
“We don’t have the drug dealing along the trail anymore,” said Denver’s deputy director of Parks and Rec, Scott Gilmore.
In the months after the trail made the news, Denver Parks and Rec made several changes, like adding “No Stopping, No Standing” signage underneath bridges along the trail, adding brighter lighting under those same overpasses, adding more patrols of park rangers and sending service providers to the trail to help people who may be in crisis.
“A lot of the things we did on the trail are things that we’re incorporating here,” said Gilmore, standing in Civic Center Park, which closed earlier this year because of the problems.
Some of the park has since reopened, allowing space for the Denver Christkindl Market. But other areas are still closed.
“We all know that there was drug dealing in this park,” Gilmore said. “This had become a place where on the Broadway Terrace you could actually go and get meth fentanyl heroin easily. That is not acceptable anymore.”
Gilmore said Denver Parks and Rec is working on updating lighting, adding cameras, removing benches where drug dealers used to congregate and hiring additional staff.
The department plans to hire 11 additional maintenance personnel to work in the park and 8 new park rangers all dedicated to the park. He said when the park reopens staffers will be on hand from 4 a.m. to midnight every day.
Gilmore said the city will also be more thoughtful about getting more service providers to areas where people may need help.
“As a city we need to be there to really provide programs that help them do that,” he said.
When the full park reopens, some of the grassy areas will be restricted, only allowing people to pass through.
“You will not be able to just plop down in these areas. When you start having gatherings like that that is when you start having drug dealers just show up and then they start to prey on our most vulnerable populations.”
Across the street, the Denver Public Library’s main branch has made several changes after very public problems with drug use, also in 2016.
“We lowered shelving on almost all of our floors – so that really helps with visibility – which really helps our staff see further instead of being in a mountain range of book stacks,” said Rebecca Fewell, the Central Library Administrator.
Fewell also said more than 500 employees in the library system are trained in the use of Narcan, an inhaler used to prevent drug overdoses.
But the library also leaned in to helping people who are in crisis. Fewell said the system has hired several peer navigators and social workers to help people overcome any challenges they might be facing.
“We like to hire folks who have lived experience, either have gone through a treatment program and are now able to help others navigate that…maybe have experiencing homelessness,” she said.
Instead of pushing people who might need help away, Fewell said the library wants to be a resource.
“We’ve really decided that we want to be the place for people,” she said. “We want to be that first connection spot for people in the community. It takes your leaders saying that’s what we’re doing.”