Public Lands during COVID-19

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by Marissa Lorenz

Following the Stay-At-Home Order from Colorado Governor Jared Polis last Wednesday
and the advice of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there have been many closures or other operating modifications in public services and private business. Among so many regulatory directives, it can be hard to know what is permitted and what is not. And one of the arenas where that confusion is becoming more and more apparent is that of outdoor recreation.

Although the executive order prohibits unnecessary travel and activity, Polis has been vocal in encouraging outdoor activity, such as walking, hiking, and nordic skiing, where social distancing practices can still be employed. The two directives can be hard to reconcile. So below are the most up-to-date decrees from our public lands agencies, explaining what is available to the public and what access has been restricted.

US Forest Service in CO:
Rocky Mountain Region officials are temporarily discouraging continued recreational use on the national forests and grasslands. While trails and roads may be open for use, facilities like visitor centers, entrance kiosks, restrooms and more will be closed. Currently, the guidance temporarily allows for the limited local day use of trails and rivers. The guidance is based on a risk assessment conducted by Forest Service officials to determine significant risks that would be difficult to mitigate given the demonstrated risk of COVID-19 exposure in large, concentrated gatherings of people. If a trailhead is closed, access to that trail is considered “limited,” but may sometimes be accessed from a different point. Backcountry camping regulations vary by area. Consult individual forests and districts online to
find out what is open or closed.

Colorado State Parks:

Colorado State Parks remain open, but all playgrounds, campgrounds, dispersed camping and camping facilities (including yurts and cabins) at Colorado’s state parks as well as camping at State Wildlife Areas are closed to use. Colorado Parks and Wildlife visitor centers, service centers and offices are also continuing to restrict access to the public. Restrictions and closures remain subject to change.

BLM in Colorado:
Visitors may continue to enjoy BLM-managed public lands in a safe and responsible manner. The Bureau of Land Management recommends visiting areas close to home while avoiding very popular or crowded locations where social distancing may be difficult and limiting group activities to members of your household. Please note that existing rules and regulations apply. Entrance fees have been waived. Other fees, such as overnight camping, cabin rentals, group day use, and use of special areas will remain in effect.

The BLM is temporarily restricting in-person public access to visitor centers and public rooms in our Colorado offices. Please check with individual offices regarding customer services available by phone or email.

National Park Service in Colorado:
The National Park Service (NPS) announced this week the temporary waiving of entrance fees. NPS is modifying its operations on a park-by-park basis in accordance with the latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and state and local public health authorities. While most facilities and events are closed or canceled, many outdoor spaces remain accessible to the public.

Rocky Mountain and Mesa Verde National Parks are currently closed to all visitors. At other Colorado national parks and monuments, visitors centers, campgrounds, and picnic areas are closed. Outdoor spaces and trails remain largely open to the public in these sites, including Colorado National Monument, Great Sand Dunes, Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Dinosaur National Monument, Curecanti National Rec Area, and Florissant Fossil Beds.

Before visiting, please check with individual parks regarding changes to park operations. If you choose to visit a national park, please ensure that you follow CDC and state
and local guidelines to prevent the spread of infectious diseases and practice Leave No Trace principles. Updates about the NPS response, including safety information, are posted on www.nps.gov/coronavirus.

When visiting public lands:
Visitors are urged to do their part when visiting your public lands. It is recommended they bring their own supplies. Be sure to follow local, state, and CDC guidance.

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