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KUNC is here to keep you up-to-date on the news about COVID-19 — the disease caused by the novel coronavirus — Colorado's response to its spread in our state and its impact on Coloradans.

As More People Hit Trails For Social Distancing, Officials Remind Them To Be Safe

Jackie Hai
Snowshoers at Nymph Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park in February 2020.

The National Park Service was ordered on Wednesday to temporarily suspend entrance fees as a way to help Americans access more wild places amid the expansion of coronavirus closures and restrictions.

The waiving of fees applies only to parks and areas inside parks that officials deem safe to remain open.

For instance, Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado announced Tuesday that it would stay open, but closed its visitors centers and cancelled in-person events. Some restrooms there are expected to remain open.

David Bernhardt, the secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior, said fees are waived until further notice.

"Our vast public lands that are overseen by the Department offer special outdoor experiences to recreate, embrace nature and implement some social distancing," Bernhardt said in a statement.

The announcement led some park visitors to voice concerns about how to assure social distancing as parents and their children, dismissed from work and school, hit the trails in increasing numbers.

“This order flies in the face of direct pleas from medical professionals in rural areas with serious concerns about their ability to deal with the coronavirus health crisis,” said Jayson O'Neill, director of the Western Values Project, a non-partisan Rocky Mountain watchdog group. “The last thing medical providers in rural areas should be concerned about is an inundation of visitors that could severely strain medical resources based on Bernhardt’s reckless order.“

In Boulder County, officials are tracking a rise in visitors at open spaces and on trails. County health officials and Gov. Jared Polis have recommended getting outside for fresh air and exercise. The county's parks and open space staff said people doing so must follow precautions. People who are sick should stay at home to protect others, said parks and open space staff. They should consider visiting less popular places, avoid groups - including coming with a large group - and ensure they are seen and heard by others on trails, all while practicing hygienic measures, like keeping climbing equipment disinfected.

"Don't put first responders and medical personnel at risk," parks and open space staff added in a statement, emphasizing its rules and regulations.

As the coronavirus pandemic worsens across the U.S., nearly 7 million people in Northern California have been ordered to shelter in place, meaning they should not leave their homes. Such orders are possible in other parts of the country.

Polis was asked about that possibility for Colorado.

"All of the additional social distancing measures are being looked at," Polis said. "(But) you can't shut down everything forever. We don't know when there will be a vaccine. We don't know when there will be a cure."

As investigative reporter for KUNC, I take tips from our audience and, well, investigate them. I strive to go beyond the obvious, to reveal new facts, to go in-depth and to bring new perspectives and personalities to light.
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