The Boulder County Public Health video showing a large throng at Boulder Creek eschewing social distancing and other safety recommendations on May 19 has already had significant repercussions. Shortly before Governor Jared Polis ripped into some Coloradans for being "ignorant and selfish" during a May 20 press conference on the state's response to COVID-19, Boulder health authorities announced that they had closed a big chunk of Eben G. Fine Park, where the revelers had collected.
Now, with the Memorial Day weekend approaching and tempting weather predicted, Colorado Parks and Wildlife is warning of more shutdowns at parks across the state if gaggles of boneheads decide to party in violation of best practices.
According to Rebecca Ferrell, CPW's public information manager: "If necessary in the interest of public safety, Colorado Parks and Wildlife will close areas of our parks that are too crowded, where social distancing is not occurring, or where people are making irresponsible choices."
While Eben G. Fine Park, a Boulder park, will technically remain open, there will be no access to park land (and the creek bed) north of the Boulder Creek path "due to public health and safety concerns, and in an effort to prevent large gatherings and ensure proper physical distancing," Boulder announced. "This closure is intended to reduce the community spread of COVID-19 in an area shown as conducive to social gathering and large groups exceeding current Safer at Home orders."
The Boulder Police Department has taken heat for not stopping the gathering on May 19. But BPD chief Maris Herold has pushed back on this interpretation with a statement that notes, "In early May, we issued a strong warning to the community that inappropriate behavior and a failure to maintain physical distancing was putting police officers, park maintenance crews and community members’ health at risk." Between April 29 and May 19, Herold's officers issued 66 citations in the park "when education was ineffective."
The BPD now promises to monitor the closure area carefully, and warnings will be the first option; groups of ten or more people will be asked to disperse. If they don't, the department promises additional enforcement action, but Herold doesn't want to risk creating greater problems. "This strategy is consistent with regional and national policing best practices," she says. "Recent violent events have occurred all over the country when there is strict enforcement of social distancing and the use of facial coverings without clear outreach to provide education and warnings."
Adds Boulder County Public Health administrator Jeff Zayach: "It’s a balancing act to keep our community safe while allowing everyone to enjoy our beautiful outdoors. This is a difficult time for all of us, no matter your situation. However, we take putting others at risk — by our young people, as well as the many adults who have told us that they will not be following public-health orders — very seriously. We will continue to support law enforcement in the best strategies to monitor and take action if such behavior continues."
On Memorial Day weekend, tens of thousands of Coloradans are expected to head for the great outdoors. And many haven't waited for the holiday.
"We are proud to have kept open all of our Colorado State Parks and Wildlife Areas throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, and have navigated heavy visitation levels that we don't normally see until mid-summer," says CPW's Ferrell. "That has given us a head start on working with the public over the past couple of months on sharing the importance of continued social distancing, the need to wear masks, and the overall importance of responsible recreation — including respecting our natural resources and fellow visitors."
Ferrell acknowledges that "people are anxious to get out and start their summer here in Colorado, but Safer at Home does not mean all bets are off when it comes to COVID-19. We expect heavy visitation over the holiday weekend, and it's critical that people act responsibly, following both public health and leave-no-trace practices."
Right now, she stresses, "Colorado Parks and Wildlife's designated swim areas are closed, along with our group picnic areas, playgrounds and other areas where people would tend to congregate or otherwise make decisions regarding social distancing."
And if a Boulder Creek-style mob decides to party in a state park? Such areas can and will be made off limits if need be, Ferrell says, adding, "The governor has been clear in press conferences and in interviews that he gives us that park-level discretion to manage these instances as needed."
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