Even if Denver's mandatory mask rules over COVID-19 aren't among the toughest in the state, anyone who eschews face coverings can be assessed jail time and up to a $999 fine for a violation — an unlikely prospect, but a real one. However, the city has pretty much given up on making residents don masks in parks, merely recommending their usage, and that's definitely had an effect.
Mask-wearing outdoors in the metro area was already iffy prior to the launch of Colorado's safer-at-home program, but it's definitely been decreasing of late, as evidenced by a recent hike on Red Rocks Trail, part of the Denver Mountain Parks system, when far fewer than half of those enjoying the great outdoors were masked and social distancing was a complete joke.
Granted, such folks can't be described as scofflaws. But based on our experience, most of them are assholes.
I was joined on the hike by four companions. Even though we know each other well and have spent time together since the pandemic, we all wore masks and were careful to remain at least six feet away from each other. Still, we were able to engage in conversation throughout the nearly two hours we spent on the gorgeous trail and its tributaries, as well as enjoy spending time with each other even if we were a little more physically distant than usual.
The problems came when we encountered hikers or cyclists coming the other direction, either individually or in tightly packed groups of two, three or four. Probably 70 percent of those on foot and 95 percent of riders had skipped masking, and the overwhelming majority shared another common characteristic: When approaching people with face coverings, they would...not...move...over.
Some parts of the trail made six-foot spacing difficult, but with a single exception, these hikers didn't try to maximize the gap available. Instead, they went straight down the middle of the trail. More than not giving a shit about social distancing, many seemed to actively resent the idea that they should be obligated to move over to enable some other lame-o so afraid of catching an airborne virus that they'd gone outside looking like refugees from an infection ward.
So they didn't, leaving us to either scramble up slopes to widen the span between us or, when this option wasn't available, to simply turn our backs to them and let them pass with our faces pointed in the opposite direction.
This didn't happen once or twice during our hike; it was more like fifty to one hundred times. And there were other passage problems, too. A mask-free family foursome (mother, father, two teenage sons) were woefully out of shape and had to keep stopping to catch their breath — and they invariably did so at trail intersections where we had to pass within inches of them as they huffed and puffed and looked as if they were going to lose consciousness. This occurred three separate times, and on one occasion, I had to hop across rocks in a small run-off stream so as not to practically be on top of them. We actually switched trails to avoid this group, and still wound up directly behind them before our walk was done.
When we passed hikers with masks, we took the suggestion of Mayor Michael Hancock and thanked them for wearing face coverings, and the friendly gratitude of the responses we received established an instant kinship. But this group was considerably smaller than the one that rejected masks and social distancing, with some members of the latter clearly looking upon anyone who hadn't as a moron.
This is the environment that hikers at Denver Mountain Parks and beyond are encountering today — and will likely see for the near future. There's no covering it up.