No Masks, No Distancing: What to Expect at Water Parks on the Fourth

Revelers at Poudre River Whitewater Park in Fort Collins on June 28.
Revelers at Poudre River Whitewater Park in Fort Collins on June 28. Photo by Michael Roberts
On July 1, Golden indefinitely closed access to Clear Creek over concerns that the lack of masks and social distancing seen along the city's popular trail the previous weekend could lead to the sort of COVID-19 case spikes experienced last month after an overcrowded May bash at Boulder Creek.

Nevertheless, there'll be lots of water attractions open across the state throughout the Fourth of July weekend, including Poudre River Whitewater Park, a spectacular free facility run by the City of Fort Collins now celebrating its first summer; the project's initial phase was completed last October.

Based on a visit to the park on Sunday, June 28, folks heading to such places shouldn't expect to see facial coverings or big gaps between people — especially during a holiday weekend, when attendance will almost certainly soar.

click to enlarge The sign at the entrance to Poudre River Whitewater Park. - PHOTO BY MICHAEL ROBERTS
The sign at the entrance to Poudre River Whitewater Park.
Photo by Michael Roberts
Streets around the attraction were jammed with cars, causing new arrivals to look for parking spots in nearby neighborhoods. During our walk from our ride, we wore masks, which definitely made us outliers. The overwhelming majority of people, including lots of families carrying tubes or other flotation devices, did nothing to cover their noses or mouths.

Granted, these groups tended to keep their distance from other pedestrians as they made their way across a walkway leading to water-access points. Closer encounters were more commonplace along the banks of the river, where gatherers frequently came near each other whether basking in the sun or cavorting in the water — kids and grownups alike.

click to enlarge Another angle on Poudre River Whitewater Park on June 28. - PHOTO BY MICHAEL ROBERTS
Another angle on Poudre River Whitewater Park on June 28.
Photo by Michael Roberts
The scene wouldn't have pleased public health officials, but neither was it likely to cause them overwhelming palpitations given the number of people present: probably a hundred or so during the early afternoon time, when we were there. But crowds definitely built during our time at the site, with more coming in as we were going out.

With predictions of steamy temperatures over the Fourth of July weekend, places like Poudre River Whitewater Park will undoubtedly prove impossible to resist not only for families, but for teens and young adults, of which there are an abundance in Fort Collins, home of Colorado State University.

We won't know if such gatherings lead to a rash of new infections until a couple of weeks after the holiday ends, owing to the incubation period of COVID-19. Until then, people wanting to do something cool to celebrate our nation's independence while avoiding crowds might want to open their freezer doors.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts