Cliff Diving in Red Rock Canyon, a Risky Thrill

Sam Weiss, Senior Reporter

“I practically grew up there,” says Manitou Springs High School senior Nik Lyles. “I found the place when I was in middle school. It’s a beautiful place, and diving off the cliffs has been an activity that I enjoy. It kept me out of the house for much of my early days.”

Although illegal, cliff-diving is certainly one of the attractions for the ponds located on the Red Rocks Open Space. At least 30 Manitou students and recent graduates have done it.

A July 23, 2014 article in the Gazette featured the cliff-diving. Citing the article, CEO of Friends of Red Rocks Canyon, Dave Dombach, wrote on the FoRRC website informing Red Rocks users that, “not only is it illegal per city ordinance to climb higher that 10 feet on the rocks, it is also unsafe and dangerous. You do not know what is under the water. Please DO NOT swim in any of the ponds at Red Rock Canyon as it is illegal to do so.”

Diving into the pond may be an exhilarating experience enjoyed by local teens and young adults, but many are weary of doing so, not because of what may be under the water, but because of what could possibly be in the water.

Some believe that the pond is very unsanitary. Junior Chad Forsett, for instance, says he thinks the pond was a garbage dump at one time. It’s a common mistake.

The pond in Red Rocks was actually just the lowest level in one of the old quarries, shaped like an enclosed rectangular area that filled with water and looked much like a swimming pool. In fact, after the quarries closed, it was swimming pool until a child drowned in 1904 and the pool was closed.

There was a landfill, but not in Red Rocks. By 1938, Red Rocks and mort of the surrounding areas was owned by one family: the Brock family. In what is now Section 16, in an area called Gypsum Canyon, the Brocks were granted a certificate in 1970 for a 2.5 acre landfill called “South Pond.” Expansion permits were granted, and by 1973 the landfill’s size increased to 17.89 acres. By 1986 the landfill stopped accepting waste. In 1987 a formal closure plan was submitted for approval. The remaining waste now acts as a dam.

Chris Lieber with the Parks and Recreation Department of Colorado Springs says that since it is illegal for people to swim in the ponds, there isn’t really much testing of the waters because it is known that the water mostly consists of run-off from the excessive flooding that occurred during the 2013 summer.

Regardless of Forsett’s assumption, “it never bothered me in the first place because the experience was worth it, regardless of the condition of the water.” He says.

Now that the rumor has been cleared up, “It puts my mind at ease knowing that I’m not swimming in trash water,” says Dominic Frankmore, a senior at Manitou High that has been cliff-diving for years, “without knowing that I probably wouldn’t have ever wanted to visit Red Rocks again.”