UPDATE | Monday, 5:30 p.m. — Colorado Parks and Wildlife announced Monday evening that state park campgrounds will remain closed until further notice.
As the weather continues to warm and the threat of freezing temperatures and snow diminishes, many Coloradans are turning their attention to a beloved outdoor activity: camping at one of the 41 state parks.
But, like so many other aspects of life, the novel coronavirus has thrown a wrench into some of those plans. As new updates on the virus develop each day, Colorado Parks and Wildlife is continuing to work with state and local health officials to determine the best way to ensure future campers are safe and happy while enjoying the outdoors, said Bridget Kochel, statewide public information officer with CPW.
So, what's CPW’s advice for the time being? Keep your plans fluid and flexible and explore some local parks as an alternate.
“We understand that this is an usual time right now, but we want everyone to know that we’re doing everything on our end to work closely with our customers and we understand people want to get outside,” she said.
Open areas at state parks have remained accessible through the pandemic, but all campgrounds closed on March 26. They will remain closed through May 4, though officials may extend that date based on the guidance health officials offer to CPW, Kochel said.
“We’re in the process right now of working toward developing plans to reopen camping because we understand there is a desire to want to go camping,” she said. “However, we have to get the approval from our health authorities on when that can happen.”
CPW is also working with individual counties, since some have travel restrictions that don't allow out-of-county residents on some roads, among other rules.
Because of varying rules in each county, some campgrounds may open earlier than others, Kochel said.
Regarding camping reservations, CPW is offering a full refund to anybody who has made a reservation to stay in a campground before May 4. In addition, if a person has a reservation on or after May 5, they can change the date without a fee.
All camping-related fees — including date changes and cancellations — have been waived until the end of the year, Kochel said.
“We’re really trying to be as flexible as we possibly can,” she said.
Once the campgrounds do reopen, it’s hard to predict what changes campers should expect, what regulations will still be in place, and how the coronavirus will ultimately impact summer traffic. And that could vary from park to park, because camping facilities differ.
Some state parks have already seen a recent visitation increase of about 30%, but Kochel said it’s hard to determine if this trend will roll over into summer months, when state parks typically see the most activity. State and local guidelines could change before that time.
“It’s really hard for us to predict what those numbers are going to look like this summer because there’s so much changing and this is such an unusual time so we’re not really sure what it’s going to look like at this point,” she said.
Kochel said CPW is discussing if they should vet camping reservations to ensure the person or people aren’t traveling from outside the 10-mile limit. Colorado Gov. Jared Polis has previously asked Coloradans to recreate within 10 miles of their home.
Park rangers are continuing to enforce park rules and regulations, Kochel said.
Kochel said CPW hasn’t determined if any fines, warnings or punishments should be established if rangers determine that an individual or group violated local or state public health orders. That remains in the planning phase, she said.
“We take the safety of campers very seriously and so we will proactively take steps to do whatever we have to do to make sure that they can camp safely,” Kochel said.
CPW staff is also still discussing if they should reduce the number of available campsites at campgrounds, she said.
Aside from campgrounds and facilities, state parks are still open to visitors. If you live within 10 miles of a state park, you’re welcome to participate in outdoor recreation there, like hiking, fishing and boating, as long as you follow social distancing guidelines, she said. Kochel said any state park visitors are also asked to wear a mask that covers their nose and mouth and to avoid crowds.
At a news conference Monday, Polis urged residents to visit nearby parks — “Your second or third favorite park,” he said, instead of a far-away top favorite — for the next month. Kochel said residents can use the COTREX app and website to locate local trails and parks, and to stay updated on any closures. In addition, she stressed the importance of knowing county travel restrictions and park closures before you head out the door.
Camping will return, but safety must remain CPW’s main priority, Kochel said.
“We want to work with our health officials, and we want to work with our counties and make sure that we have a solid, strategic plan in place before we reopen camping,” she said.