Summit County Rescue Group troubled by crowded trailheads

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Posted at 4:42 PM, Apr 05, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-05 19:41:58-04

SUMMIT COUNTY, Colo. -- Over the last two weekends, volunteers with the Summit County Rescue Group drove to popular trailheads, and they don't like what they're seeing.

"People were definitely out. I'm not so sure the social distancing thing was doing so well," said Charles Pitman, mission coordinator and public information officer for the group.

Pitman said his team would respond to requests for assistance in the backcountry, but he cautions that their response could be delayed. He said rescue operations would look different in light of COVID-19.

"We are modifying our response just like other first responders are modifying their responses, so if we get called, we might not be placing as many people in the field. We may not be calling as many people on a rescue in order to keep the number of people at command down to an absolute minimum," said Pitman.

He said his teams would also take extra precautions if they have to make contact with someone who is injured. They will work to minimize contact, and only medical personnel will be allowed to get close to that person.

"You tend to be much more aware of what might happen and how you might respond to a mission just because of the situation that we're in right now," said Pitman.

The Colorado Department of Transportation and the Colorado Department of Natural Resources issued a press release telling people to avoid heading to the mountains this weekend.

"Although we encourage people to get outside for their own well-being, Coloradans need to keep their recreational activity to local trails and parks, maintain social distancing guidance, and avoid dangerous activities to reduce the strain on our search and rescue and emergency teams," said Dan Gibbs, DNR Executive Director.

The last time volunteers with Summit County Rescue Group responded to an incident was an avalanche near the Eisenhower Tunnel in late March. According to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, a snowboarder triggered the slide, but no one was injured.

Pitman has been watching reports from the CAIC and warns that the avalanche danger is increasing. He said their team would usually coordinate avalanche response efforts with personnel at nearby ski areas, but now that the ski areas are closed, that's not an option.

"So if there is an avalanche and a flight is available we can call them, they will drop into a ski area, pick up the dog team and the snow tech and get as close as they can to the avalanche -- that option is off the table now. The ski areas are closed. We can't call a ski area; the ski areas don't check in every day and say, 'here are my teams for the day,'" said Pitman.