By Kelly Werthmann

DENVER (CBS4) – For the first time in nearly two months, part of Civic Center Park in Denver is open again to the public. Since Denver’s health department shut down the park in mid-September, as first reported by CBS4 Investigator Brian Maass, crews have been busy cleaning the park and making restorations.

“This park is the heart and soul of the City and County of Denver,” said Scott Gilmore, Deputy Manager for Denver Parks and Recreation.

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It’s widely known it’s important to take care of your heart, but the exact opposite was happening at Civic Center Park.

(credit: CBS)

“We were cleaning up 50 to 100 needles a day,” Gilmore told CBS4.

From illegal drugs to human waste, a rat infestation and loads of litter, the historic park was closed because it was a health hazard. Weeks were spent cleaning up the area and work is still underway.

“We have to make sure the illegal activity doesn’t come back,” Gilmore said. “Drug use and illegal drug sales will not be tolerated anymore.”

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To keep the park safe – and prevent another closure – the city is beefing up security. Old bulbs are being replaced with LED lighting, an infrared security camera system will be installed to keep a closer eye around the entire park, and 11 additional park personnel and 8 more park rangers are being hired to patrol the area.

“We will have staff in this park 20 hours out of the day, 7 days a week,” Gilmore said. “We are working on hiring those people as we speak, so that’s going to take a little time. That’s why we don’t want to open the whole park up because we don’t have the infrastructure and staffing to make sure we’re cutting out the bad uses of the park.”

Park staff will also watch for people dropping off boxes of food. While it was a good intention to help the homeless, Gilmore said those items were never consumed by humans. Instead, it fed the rat problem.

(credit: CBS)

“We had a lot of people trying to do the right thing, but they weren’t doing the right thing,” he explained. “They’d drive over here and drop boxes of celery, green peppers, bread and carrots, and nobody was eating that stuff…it was aggravating the rat problem. So we will actually be making sure any individuals pulling up to the park and just dropping stuff off will be ticketed for littering.”

Reviving Civic Center Park has been a costly endeavor. According to figures provided by the city, graffiti removal alone cost about $200,000. The new cameras are another $400,000 and the added staff will cost over $1.4 million. Gilmore said it’s absolutely worth every penny to take care of the city’s heart.

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“If we don’t send the message in this park, we might as well give up,” he said. “This is where you come to feel the heart of this city, and that’s what people need to be able to do.”

Kelly Werthmann