photo - Left to right, Nick Blackman and Abby Blackman crash into the pool at the bottom of Rainbow Falls while Desire Rimbert watches Thursday, June 5, 2014. (Gazette file photo)
Left to right, Nick Blackman and Abby Blackman crash into the pool at the bottom of Rainbow Falls while Desire Rimbert watches Thursday, June 5, 2014. (Gazette file photo) 

After a monthslong closure, Rainbow Falls will reopen June 3 for the first time since it earned the status of a historical site.

The 5-acre recreation area, which includes a series of waterfalls just west of Manitou Springs near U.S. 24, became El Paso County's first ever county-designated historic site in December after commissioners voted unanimously to reclassify the property. The decision was seen as a solution to the vandalism that has plagued the natural wonder, nicknamed "Graffiti Falls," for years.

The site will be open Friday to Monday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. through August, according to a county news release.

The property will be staffed with county employees and volunteers, said Commissioner Stan VanderWerf, whose district includes Manitou Springs and Ute Pass.

The county plans to spend nearly $450,000 in grants and local funding on improvements to the site after it closes in the early fall, according to the news release. Proposed upgrades include enhancing trails and parking, removing graffiti from the bridge spanning the falls and constructing a foot bridge over Fountain Creek.

"That's the goal: a family friendly park that families can bring their kids to and enjoy the park," said VanderWerf.

The county is also considering an art project that would cover the bridge above the falls in decorative tiles depicting the site's legacy. But there are limitations on how the structure can be changed due to its historical significance, VanderWerf said.

Manitou Springs, the Colorado Department of Transportation, community group Manitou Environmental Citizens Action and the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District are also involved in proposed improvements.

The county acquired the property from Mansfield Development Corporation in 2010, but the historical significance of the falls dates back decades. The area was once a place of spiritual significance for a band of Ute Indians known as the Tabegauche, or People of Sun Mountain. The site also includes a stretch of the original Ute Pass wagon trail, which led to mining camps in Cripple Creek and Victor.

After the site was severely flooded in 2013, CDOT completed a project that stabilized the banks of the creek and repaired an access road and trail leading to the falls. Last year, the agency finished $1.8 million in maintenance work on the bridge.

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Contact Rachel Riley: 636-0108

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