PARK COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4) – Authorities in Park County are warning of the dangers at a popular swimming hole after a cliff diver suffered serious injuries.
Guffey Gorge, also known as Paradise Cove, is a natural granite cliff wall surrounding a waterfall-fed pool that is located about 15 miles southeast of the town of Guffey.
The decades-old rock, carved by waters flowing from Cripple Creek, has gained attention in the last 15 to 20 years among thrill-seeking teens and young adults.
Cliff ledges ranging in height from 20 to more than 80 feet are often used in summer months to plunge into the clear waters below.
A growing number of recent injuries, however, has law enforcement officers and first responders concerned.
Cellphone video captured a horrifying dive on July 4 from the highest ledge at 83 feet.
The 20-year-old woman who dove landed with a belly flop and emerged from the frigid water with serious injuries. She had to be airlifted to a nearby hospital.
“She’s got severe nerve damage in her right leg. And she has to have crutches for her left. She’s lucky to be alive; very very lucky,” said Denae Holler, an acquaintance of the injured diver.
Braving the more than 20 minute, sometimes steep trek that it takes to get to the gorge, around 30,000 people make their way to the hotspot every year.
Andrew Crews, who lives in Colorado Springs, has jumped from the cove’s cliffs four times.
“The crazies … is like way up there. That’s like 80 feet and that was pretty intense,” Crews told CBS4’s Melissa Garcia.
Ignoring posted warning signs, daredevils plunge into the natural pool, which has a depth of only about 10 feet.
“Every time I go in, (I) just check the depth. Or I ask someone who has done it already just to be safe,” Crews said.
“It always looks way scarier when you’re standing up there (at the top),” said Gabriella Gordon, another cliff jumper.
The Bureau of Land Management plans to start charging an admission fee that would increase patrols and prohibit alcohol, among other measures.
“It’s kind of sad, because, I feel like they turn everything like this almost like into an amusement park,” Gordon added.
While access to Guffey Gorge is still unrestricted, Park County Sheriff Fred Wegener was warning visitors of the dangers of jumping into the hidden gem.
“There’s no room for error,” Wegener said. “If you tilt off to the side, if you go in face first, it’s unforgiving. … I want (the area) to be enjoyed but I want it to be done responsibly. We don’t want folks to get hurt.”
Wegener said that an average of a dozen or more people suffer injuries cliff jumping at the spot every year.
Crews with South Park County Fire Protection District planned to conduct rescue training at the gorge on Tuesday evening.