COLORADO SPRINGS — The pandemic spurred another contagion in Southern Colorado over the past several months as people have gone out into mother nature and fallen in love with what she has to offer.

“Of course, everyone loves Garden of the Gods and we have already hit 1.5 million people,” Kurt Schroeder, the maintenance director for Colorado Springs Parks said.

The 1.5 million visitors so far in 2021, equals 250,000 more people than at this time in 2020, and 19,000 more visitors in 2019.

Schroeder said whether it’s folks showing up to trails in flip flops or other signs, they’ve noticed some newcomers to the trails as well. Whether it’s Garden of the Gods, Palmer Park, Red Rock Canyon, or Cheyenne Canon, there are a lot of popular spots in Colorado Springs that people hike early and often.

“Parking lots fill up pretty quickly, trails fill up pretty quickly. At Red Rock Canyon, they build a new parking lot, it fills up. North Cheyenne Canon, built a new parking lot, it’s going to full up,” Bob Falcone, the local trail expert known as Hiking Bob said.

For those reasons, Bob says its crucial that people plan ahead and think of options of where they want to hike.

“Recognize that you can’t just park on the side of the road and have another place to go. Maybe another place after that and maybe try something new,” Falcone added.

Hiking Bob suggests driving west up Highway 24, which may take a bit longer, but he said it’s worth it in terms of trail usage. Bring plenty of water, snacks, and a rain jacket because of the rapidly changing weather in Southern Colorado.

“There’s always a possibility of a thunderstorm late in the afternoon, so have your gear,” he said.

Its essential to pack out what ever you pack in and practice “Leave no trace” principals. Trash and water bottles are no-brainers, but even apple cores and orange peels can damage the environment and create habits for wildlife that put them in danger.

“We are so happy that people are out there using our parks but, it’s so important that they use them appropriately so we don’t diminish the resource and the person that comes tomorrow, or potentially ten years from now, it’s going to have the same great experience and resource as when you were first there,” Falcone said.