NPR for Northern Colorado
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Colorado Releases Guidance For How To Recreate Outdoors Safely During A Pandemic

Stacy Nick
An RMA rafting guide prepares to push the boat into the river from the drop-in site near Mishawaka Amphitheatre, in the summer of 2019.

Colorado public health officials have issued guidance on how outdoor recreation should operate in the state, to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Colorado Edition spoke with KUNC Colorado River Basin reporter Luke Runyon about what is included in that guidance, and what it will mean for the outdoor industry this summer.

Interview Highlights

These interview highlights have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Erin O'Toole: What is included in this guidance?

Luke Runyon: This is a document that's meant to give some best practices to businesses that you can think of as sort of the backbone of Colorado's summer recreation economy.

Guided fishing, hiking, biking, horseback riding, canoeing, kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding, river rafting. So for all of those activities where someone is hiring an outfitter or a guide, those businesses can open now and start up recreating with groups of 10 or fewer people. For river rafting, boats can have two household groups in a boat.

And a lot of these guidelines are what you'd expect because we've now been living in this pandemic for a few months now. Face coverings are required, unless they impede one someone's ability to recreate. Businesses should be screening staff members and guests for symptoms of COVID-19. Maintain social distance as much as you can. Disinfect equipment like paddles or life jackets or fishing rods after each use. And this was one I didn't think of right away but makes total sense: the state says you should keep the windows down in any enclosed vehicles, like the buses a lot of outfitters will use to transport people to river access points or trailheads.  

Some of these businesses had already been able to open because they were in counties that had received a variance from the state, but this new guidance gives outdoor recreation businesses across the state the ability to open even if their county doesn't have a variance.

Let's turn to what this means for the industry. I imagine that companies like raft rentals, got a later start this year than usual due to the pandemic.

Yeah, some of these businesses are getting a slow start, and a lot of these outfitters make the bulk of their income from an already short summer season, in June, July and August when people are taking family vacations. David Costlow, who runs the Colorado River Outfitters Association and he says he's hoping that outfitters are able to make some of that up now that they'll be open.  

His organization estimates that the rafting industry in Colorado alone hosted more than half a million people last year. And those trips resulted in nearly $190 million in economic impact to the state. It's too early to say what the rest of this season will bring, but I think you can bet on there being fewer people, and less revenue because of that. Just the canceled trips at the beginning of the season alone mean that outfitters are starting out in the hole.

What will this mean for these businesses throughout the summer? Is there concern that operating at a limited capacity will hurt businesses?  

Well, sure. I mean, for a lot of these recreation-based industries, more bodies mean more money. And so if you're limiting the number of people who can do a certain activity right from the get-go, that's going to show up in an individual business's bottom line right away. I think too I've heard from some tourism-based industries that the message has been mixed. For months the message to tourists was: "Don't come here. Leave if you don't live here. Residents only."

And so now, you have a situation where that message is changing. It's softening a bit. Some state leaders say Colorado still isn't ready for the huge influx of summer tourists like we usually see.

Meanwhile these individual outfitter groups and businesses are saying. "Please come, we want to show you our beautiful state, and we can do it safely if you let us."

As KUNC’s managing editor and reporter covering the Colorado River Basin, I dig into stories that show how water issues can both unite and divide communities throughout the Western U.S. I edit and produce feature stories for KUNC and a network of public media stations in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, New Mexico, Arizona, California and Nevada.