A COVID-19 plea to recreationists
I still remember the first time I visited Waterton Canyon. I was a new Denver Water employee and couldn’t believe so much beauty could be that close to the city.
At Waterton Canyon you can spot a herd of bighorn sheep, a fox or even a bear (note: please don’t feed the animals if you see one).
Now that I think about it, this is probably why it is one of the most popular recreation areas in the Denver metro area.
With that said, things have changed for everyone in the past few months. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced people around the world to make changes in how they live and work. That includes us.
Waterton Canyon closed to the public
We know that closing Waterton Canyon is disappointing for many and an inconvenience as the public tries to find safe places to be outdoors. But, the increase in usage meant more people congregating – especially when a bighorn sheep would make its way to the road, which is a regular occurrence in the canyon. This certainly didn’t follow the guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment for social distancing to help stop the spread of Coronavirus.
Additionally, the canyon is a working facility and living quarters for some of Denver Water’s employees and their families. These employees use the road 24/7/365 to maintain the many elements of this operational facility. Added recreationists make that more challenging.
“Waterton Canyon is a service road for our essential employees who live in the canyon and use it to maintain a reliable drinking water supply for 1.5 million people in the Denver metro area,” said Heath Stuerke, Strontia Springs Dam supervisor. “The closure will help protect employees, their families and the public during this situation by limiting exposure for everyone.”
Additional Denver Water recreation closures and restrictions
All of the recreation areas that Denver Water operates serve as an operational facility first and foremost. And, over the past few weekends we have seen record or near-record numbers of recreationists at some of our other facilities.
This is very concerning for the safety of our facility operators, rangers and staff. And, in many cases, these facilities, like Cheesman, Antero and Williams Fork reservoirs, are in remote locations –- typically near towns that aren’t prepared to handle the influx of visitors while managing the COVID-19 situation for their communities.
“More recreationists in these small towns is not only putting yourself at risk for increased exposure, but also puts more pressure and exposure to those in the communities, first responders and our employees working to maintain our vital water operations,” said Brandon Ransom, manager of recreation for Denver Water. “The better job we do at recreating near our homes now the safer our employees and communities will be and the quicker we can get back to normal.”
Even facilities in some more populated areas, like Gross Reservoir in Boulder County and Dillon Reservoir in Summit County, have been hit hard by the virus while experiencing an up-tick in recreational visitors, creating difficult discussions for officials on how to manage this state-wide challenge.
At this time, Denver Water has also closed campsites at Antero and Williams Fork reservoirs until further notice to align with Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the U.S. Forest Service guidance.
We are continuing to evaluate the current COVID-19 situation and will work with our partners and experts to decide on additional recreation restrictions, if any, explained Ransom.
“Because things can change in a matter of minutes, we encourage recreationists to visit denverwater.org to check for closures before you head out to any of our recreation areas,” he said.
Here are some recommendations from our partners at Jefferson County before you decide to go out:
- Do not leave your home unless you absolutely need to. This is especially important if you are sick. Until Colorado lifts its stay-at-home order, please practice social distancing and reduce the spread of COVID-19.
- Stay as close to home as possible. Try something in your own backyard, take a walk or bike ride around the block, or visit a neighborhood park (just leave any playground equipment untouched). Recreate only with people from your own household.
- Avoid crowds. Parks and trailheads tend to be less busy early in the morning or late in the day.
Closures and restrictions throughout Colorado
The U. S. Forest Service announced the closure of all developed recreation sites, campgrounds, restrooms and have asked the public to disperse across the National Forest system in no groups greater than 10 individuals.
Gunnison County even directed visitors and non-resident homeowners to stay away. The county’s public health director was concerned about the burden on local health care services as well as the fact that people from lower altitudes can be at greater risk for complications from the virus as they are not acclimatized to the higher elevation in Gunnison County.
Moral of the story? If you want to go out and enjoy the outdoors on a beautiful Colorado day, we simply ask that you do it close to home so that you don’t put others at risk. The statewide Stay-At-Home order issued by Gov. Jared Polis will help us get through this together, but only if everyone follows it. Mountain towns and communities, as well as our employees and facilities based there, need a little extra space and a break.
So, this is our plea to you. Please don’t drive up to what was once a secluded and remote facility to get outside. Instead, we recommend you stay in your neighborhoods until we get back to normal. Who knows, you might discover something new, fun or exiting in your own backyard.
For now, here are a few images shared by some of Waterton Canyon’s most loyal visitors. We thank you for sharing these amazing photos over the years and hope that we can all soon get back to normal and visit our favorite recreation areas.