ARAPAHOE COUNTY, Colo. — It’s no secret the outdoor spaces that draw people to Colorado and encourage so many to stay are being loved to death.

Colorado’s state parks are dealing with aging infrastructure and more visitors year after year. Cherry Creek State Park is the second most-crowded in the state. More than 2 million people were drawn to the park’s 35 miles of multi-use trails in 2018, according to data provided by Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW).

Cherry Creek is also one of two state parks that feature a dog off-leash area that draws a lot of people and pups. In fact, if the off-leash area were a state park itself, it’d be the fifth most-visited of Colorado’s 41 state parks.

“The popularity of this place has skyrocketed,” said Jason Trujillo, manager of Cherry Creek State Park.

Trujillo said nearly a million people stop by the dog off-leash area each year and it’s becoming more popular.

“That’s more visitation just in 109 acres than probably more than half of our 41 state parks,” he said.

Put differently, there are so many four-legged visitors, CPW had to look for deals on poop bags.

“We ran out [of waste bags] when we only bought 600,000 a year,” Trujillo said.

Last year, CPW spent $19,550 on one million dog waste bags. That’s $9,000 more than the agency had to spend in 2016. A spokesperson said CPW had to supplement funding in 2018 through sponsorships.  

Trujillo said the extra bags are needed to keep up with the constant traffic of pets and people that have changed the landscape.

“Pretty much eight feet wide was the original path that we put in,” Trujillo said, walking down the main pathway at the dog off-leash area.

Some paths have widened to more than 30 feet, Trujillo said. People have created their own social trails, too. Those trails were unintended paths that developed over years, and some have widened enough that they can be seen in satellite images.

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Generic photo of a dog playing at Cherry Creek State Dog Park

The area looked much different when Jason Trujillo started working at Cherry Creek State Park. Back then, the park manager was selling visitor passes.

“In 1989, I came and applied as a gate attendant,” Trujillo said. “I got butterflies, literally butterflies, when I got to spend time out with the park ranger on the boat, and said, ‘This is what I’m doing.’”

Trujillo’s job now is to preserve the park he’s loved for the past 30 years, and it starts with a step CPW has never taken.

“We are going to close down the dog off-leash area for four days,” Trujillo explained.

CPW will temporarily close the dog off-leash area at Cherry Creek State Park from Oct. 14 through Oct. 17.

Crews will be doing work they can’t get done when the park is open and busy. They’ll be installing new bullpen entrances and exits for the dogs, and access gates will be relocated.

New road striping will be installed in the parking lot to create a one-way flow of traffic. Staff will do general trail work and maintenance, focusing on slowing erosion in certain areas of the park.

They’ll reseed areas and tackle issues with weeds, too.

“We’re going to take a look at the vegetation in here,” Trujillo said. “We want to get out the invasive weed species on our priority list.”

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After four days of work free of crowds, the dog off-leash area will open to the public again.

“What we would like to do is come back for four more days in the spring and get it ready for the summertime,” Trujillo said. “All we’re asking for is eight days a year to make 106 acres be sustainable for a long, long time.”

Trujillo said CPW is also considering closing off sections of the park for a year at a time to allow for regrowth of vegetation, but those plans are still in the works.

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