Gov. Jared Polis last week imposed a stay-at-home order for Coloradans due to the coronavirus, but added that outdoor exercise is still allowed as an “essential” activity. He also urged Coloradans to recreate in communities close to where they live.
“Our mountains and our canyons have been here for hundreds of thousands of years, and they’re going to be here for hundreds of thousands of years,” Polis said. “So wait until this blows over to enjoy them.”
Here are answers to some of the questions that have arisen since the order was issued:
Is outdoor exercise allowed under the stay-at-home order?
Not only is it allowed, it is encouraged. The governor has been consistent about that since the beginning of the crisis because of the physical and mental health benefits associated with exercise. He has, however, suggested people cut back on their outdoor exercise and mix in indoor exercise alternatives on occasion. “Stop putting yourself and others at risk,” Polis said. “Of course, maintain your physical fitness, and engage as you need in physical activity. But please, be careful and judicious.”
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If I live in Denver, may I go to the mountains to recreate?
“If you live in a city, you certainly shouldn’t be leaving your city to recreate,” Polis said. “You should use your municipal parks at off-hours. I’ve encouraged municipalities to expand the hours of operation of those parks to further spread it out. It also generally will mean recreating less during this crisis.”
If I live outside of Denver, may I leave my town or county to recreate?
People should recreate near where they live, Polis insisted. While acknowledging that means different things to different people depending on where they live, he strongly discouraged people living in the Front Range from visiting the mountains. “Just because you’re not working, this doesn’t mean it’s vacation,” Polis said. “It’s not the time to drive two or three hours from Denver to mountain communities, many of which are reeling from the crisis. Let me add, that is really dumb, because those communities have a higher rate of infection than where you live. So the last thing you should want to do is drive to your second residence, or a hotel, or a cabin in the mountains.”
Which types of outdoor recreation are allowed?
Individual exercise is OK but participating in group activities is not. Denver Parks have closed basketball and tennis courts. Playgrounds are closed.
Maintaining social distancing and avoiding groups is mandatory. “People shouldn’t be playing in groups,” Polis said. “Basketball, as an example. You can play one on one with a housemate, but not full-team basketball. Frisbee, again, with a housemate, but not Frisbee tag or ultimate (Frisbee). It’s about using common sense to try to engage in the necessary recreation you need, as close to home as possible.”
What about trails?
From the state epidemiologist, Dr. Rachel Herlihy: “We want people to exercise. We know it is very important for people’s physical and mental health. But a crowded park, a crowded parking lot, is certainly a place where transmission could occur. So we encourage people to find ways to exercise outdoors that avoid crowds and situations where you are going to be less than six feet from other people.”
And this from Polis: “If there are trails that don’t allow for six-foot spacing, those could be managed by counties. If they are managed by the state, we would have to look at shutting those down.”
May I uphill ski?
Uphill skiing has been prohibited at most Colorado ski areas. In fact, the four Summit County ski areas (Copper Mountain, Breckenridge, Keystone, Arapahoe Basin) and Loveland ski area teamed up with the U.S. Forest Service last week to produce a Facebook video pleading with uphill skiers to stay away. There are a few holdouts where uphilling is still permitted, though. They include the four Aspen-area mountains (Snowmass, Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk), as well as Ski Cooper and Monarch Mountain.
May I ski, snowshoe or hike in the backcountry?
The U.S. Forest Service has begun to shut down campgrounds, trailheads and parking lots. One place where this already has happened is the Vail Pass Recreation Area, an extremely popular destination for skiers, snowshoers and snowmobilers. Other trailheads in Summit County continue to attract lots of skiers, though — as do Loveland and Berthoud passes — despite the governor’s efforts to keep people close to home. Each national forest is deciding what to close on a case-by-case basis, so people are advised to check with that forest’s website to find out what is closed.
How safe is the backcountry right now?
The current backcountry avalanche rating for most Colorado mountains is moderate, which means a 2 on a scale of 1-5 (with 5 being extreme). That means there are “heightened avalanche conditions on specific terrain features,” according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, which advises backcountry travelers to “evaluate snow and terrain carefully.” And that, many avalanche experts believe, presents a problem because the backcountry has seen an influx of backcountry novices since ski areas were shuttered.
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What is the status of parks in Colorado?
Two of Colorado’s national parks, Rocky Mountain and Mesa Verde, are closed. The others, Great Sand Dunes and Black Canyon of the Gunnison, remain open but visitor centers are closed. State parks remain open but all playgrounds, campgrounds, dispersed camping and camping facilities (including yurts and cabins) are closed.
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