As the snow started to melt and the roads began to clear, more than 150 people trekked to Rainbow Falls midday Saturday for a rare winter open house.

Families posed for photos in front of a cascade of fresh snowmelt. Adults and children flung snowballs and sculpted snowmen. With the sun shining, some were even brave enough to traverse the frigid stream.

It was a welcome sight for Judy Carnick, who has watched the post-Waldo Canyon fire flooding and vandals during the past decade desecrate the popular recreation site that she and others have worked to preserve.

“This — watching people have fun here — is what has made all the years of work and setbacks worth it,” she said, watching small children waddle around in the snow.

El Paso County Parks has been forced to close Rainbow Falls intermittently for restoration and renovations. The landmark west of Manitou Springs was shuttered for more than three months last year for trail work and parking lot expansion.

It also has garnered the nickname “Graffiti Falls” because it has long been a popular spot for spray-painting.

But behind the closures and the illegal activity, Rainbow Falls history is rich, Carnick said.

“This place is not just a museum or an artifact behind glass,” said the member of the Manitou Environmental Citizens Action. “History comes alive here.”

That life includes settlers headed westward to the mining camps of Cripple Creek and Victor, a band of the Ute Indians known as the Tabaguache and a geological phenomenon known as the “Great Uncomformity.”

The Great Unconformity is a gap of missing time in the geological record found in the strata of rocks at sites across the world, including the Grand Canyon. At Rainbow Falls, it is represented by a band of sandstone or quartzite that was deposited atop Pikes Peak granite that had previously formed in the depths of the Earth, rose to the surface and then eroded away.

This geologic history is told to Rainbow Falls visitors during occasional tours by Pikes Peak Community College geology professor Mark Izold. Izold was scheduled to give tours Saturday but was unable to make it because of the snowstorm Friday night.

What ultimately will ensure the history is displayed for visitors, Carnick said, is the removal of the graffiti. Though much of the rocks behind the bridge are free of tags, the bridge is still covered in spray paint.

MECA is raising money to purchase security cameras and an alarm system to thwart vandals.

“We have to break the cycle of people who think they are entitled to graffiti this place,” she said. “This is a place for everyone, not just them, and we want to leave a legacy to this community because the history is terrific.”

El Paso County Parks hopes to reopen Rainbow Falls in April, said Theresa Odello, parks recreation coordinator.

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