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Partying, gunplay prompt plans to close Lookout Mountain Road at night

Robberies, felony assaults, overdose deaths, stolen vehicles, sex assaults, pass-outs behind the wheel, minors in possession, suicides — these are among the calls law enforcement responded to last year alone on Lookout Mountain Road, west of Golden.

Then there’s the gunfire — bullets shot from up high raining down on the Beverly Heights neighborhood below, landing on driveways, roofs and smashing through windows.

“In the summer, I move down to the basement,” said Beth Crump, a 17-year resident of the Golden neighborhood. “The gunfire is what lit me on fire because I’m in the line of fire. Nothing good is happening on Lookout Mountain at night anymore.”

The after-dark partying on the road that climbs more than 1,000 feet from Golden to the Buffalo Bill Museum and Grave at 7,375 feet could finally be coming to an end. On Tuesday, Jefferson County commissioners will consider a plan to install gates to stop travel on a 4.1-mile stretch of Lookout Mountain Road an hour after sunset until an hour before sunrise.

That sundown to sun-up restriction already exists on parking at the numerous pull-offs and turnouts that dot Lookout Mountain Road, which winds through Jefferson County’s 792-acre Windy Saddle Park and Denver’s Lookout Mountain Park. But the multiple signs warning against overnight parking are dutifully ignored — or defaced — by the throngs that party along the road’s hairpin turns.

One gate would go in at the bottom of the mountain near Chimney Gulch Trail, while the other would block vehicles at the top near the museum. Mary Ann Bonnell, the visitor services manager with Jeffco Open Space, said the drinking, drugging and sex that has gone on at night along the road is taking its toll.

A driver heads up Lookout Mountain on Feb. 21, 2024. (Photo by RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post)
A driver heads up Lookout Mountain on Feb. 21, 2024. (Photo by RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post)

“I just love that mountain,” she said. “It breaks my heart the kinds of things I have to pick up.”

The litter left behind after a typical night of frolicking is voluminous and varied: cannabis containers, hypodermic needles, underwear, bras, used condoms, fast-food packaging, cigarette butts, bullet casings — and a seemingly endless collection of beer cans and liquor bottles. Bonnell’s strangest find was shards of plates inscribed with self-help phrases that someone had chucked and shattered against the rocks.

It’s not unusual, Bonnell said, to find herself on Sunday morning filling four 55-gallon trash bags with refuse left behind by revelers at just one vehicle pull-out.

“Based on the number of hard alcohol bottles I’m finding, I’m surprised more people aren’t running into walls,” she said. “People are drinking hard up on the mountain.”

A Beverly Heights neighbor complained to Golden officials of two cars speeding down the mountain and slamming into his stone wall late at night, as well as a bullet smashing through the window of his sunroom. He declined to speak to The Denver Post for this story.

Tom Primozich, a resident of the neighborhood nestled at the foot of Lookout Mountain, is advocating for officials to shut down the road leading up the mountain during nighttime hours on Feb. 21, 2024. Primozich revealed discovering bullets in his yard and recounted multiple instances where he reported gunfire originating from the scenic overlook behind his home. (Photo by RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post)
Tom Primozich, a resident of the neighborhood nestled at the foot of Lookout Mountain, is advocating for officials to shut down the road leading up the mountain during nighttime hours. He said he discovered bullets in his yard originating from the scenic overlook behind his home. (Photo by RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post)

But Tom Primozich, a 30-year resident of the neighborhood, said late-night bathroom trips to the front yard with his aging dog can be hazardous. As he looked up at the mountain after midnight recently, multiple muzzle flashes lit up the night at a turnout several hundred feet above his house.

Primozich revealed discovering bullets in his yard and recounted multiple instances where he reported gunfire originating from the scenic overlook behind his home. (Photo by RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post)
Primozich found bullets in his yard and recounted multiple instances where he reported gunfire originating from the scenic overlook behind his home. (Photo by RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post)

“Pow, pow, pow, pow — I heard a bullet whiz right over my roof,” said Primozich, himself a competitive shooter. “I ought to be able to come here and feel safe in my yard.”

Despite Lookout Mountain being a well-known party spot for generations, several neighbors who spoke to The Post said things have gotten worse in recent years. Crump said she noticed an increase in gunshots about four years ago.

Primozich suspects social media in combination with the pandemic, which sent millions to the great outdoors in search of something to do as indoor entertainment venues and eateries went dark due to government shutdown orders, has exacerbated the situation.

“From COVID on, they’re talking on social media about shooting on the road,” he said. “I think it has all but ruined the wildlife. I don’t see deer like I used to.”

The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office and Golden police received 879 calls in 2023 on Lookout Mountain Road. The frequency of calls has gone up “especially in the last couple of years,” said Cmdr. Dan Aten of the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office patrol division.

It’s not as simple as bumping up patrols on the road, he said. The sheriff’s office has only five cars on patrol in the northern part of the county and can’t spare an officer to patrol Lookout Mountain Road full time. The crowds of partiers just keep coming, he said, filling up a turnout soon after it’s cleared.

“It really has been quite a challenge,” Aten said.

Anonymized cellphone data collected by Denver Mountain Parks showed that in 2022, more than 180,000 vehicles used the road at night. Those cars spent an average of 46 minutes parked at a turnout before moving on. Shannon Dennison, director of Denver Mountain Parks, said the data “blew everyone out of the water.”

“It showed that it is busier on some nights than it is on weekend mornings,” she said.

Then there’s the fire danger, which was put into full focus two years ago when the Marshall fire tore across southern Boulder County and destroyed more than 1,000 homes. Foothills Fire and Rescue Chief Rod Cameron said his agency responded to seven small grass fires last year along Lookout Mountain Road.

One was started by an exploding vape pen, he said.

“If we get a fire off the front of that mountain, it’s pretty hard to fight because it’s so steep,” Cameron said. “It’s time to nip it in the bud.”

But Jacqueline Webster, who has lived at the top of Lookout Mountain Road for the better part of three decades, worries about her and her neighbors’ ability to escape the mountaintop in the case of fire. It’s one of two ways out, the other being a longer drive to Interstate 70 and U.S. 40, she said.

She’s also worried that the partying that has long been associated with the area will simply migrate into her neighborhood, which sits in the shadow of the numerous television transmission towers that have long defined Lookout Mountain.

“When they close down that road with barricades now, the partiers get forced back into the neighborhood,” Webster said.

Her husband wondered about the legality of closing down a public road at night.

This wouldn’t be the first time a road that goes through public parks is closed to traffic, Bonnell said. She cited the closure of Alameda Parkway at Dinosaur Ridge and the closure of the road through Matthews/Winters Park, which is done “to protect the rare paleontological resources on site.”

Pedestrians and cyclists will still be able to access Lookout Mountain Road at night, as there will be a non-vehicle pass-through at the gates. And anyone who overstays a sunset can still get out, Bonnell said, as sensors will lift the gate from the inside of the closure zone.

There is no firm date by which the gates might be installed, but Bonnell said June 1 is a goal.

“We love that date,” she said. “We feel the urgency.”


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