Denver area residents concerned about plague as open spaces close

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COMMERCE CITY, Colo. — There hasn't been a lot to cheer about this season for Colorado Rapids fans, and just when you thought it couldn't get worse it has, because signs now greet fans at Dick's Sporting Goods Park, warning of the plague.

Justin Paul does love soccer, but he does like exploring the open space and the Rocky Mountain National Wildlife Refuge and Arsenal next to the stadium. Those areas are now all closed due to plague concerns.

"I was definitely worried," Paul said. "I come here sometimes and I'm an outdoors guy. I get bites and they don't really worry me up until now."

First Creek DEN Open Space has now been added to the list of areas closed to the public because of plague concerns. That list also includes the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge, the Prairie Gateway Open Space, and fields surrounding Dick's Sporting Goods Park.

Plague fears are also on the minds of some parents. There are several neighborhoods just a few blocks away.

"We have between 8 and 10 kids playing all over the place, cats, dogs," said Ben Ayluardo, a father who lives in the area.

However, Ayluardo and many other parents say they aren't overly worried and aren't changing their routines, partly because the plague is no longer the danger it was centuries ago.

"People hear the word plague and it can be a scary word if you don't understand it," said Gilbert Cazier, with the Tri-County Health Department.

Cazier has fielded several calls from concerned residents, but said the risk to humans is minimal, and if you do get the plague, it can be treated with antibiotics.

Regardless, he and others have been working around the clock to treat prairie dog holes with insecticide, trying to kill the fleas that transmit the disease to animals and possibly humans.

Many are cautiously optimistic the open spaces and fields surrounding Dick's Sporting Goods Park will be able to reopen soon.

A three-day Phish festival is set to be held at the stadium Labor Day weekend, and hundreds of concert goers typically camp in the fields surrounding the stadium.

The Tri-County Health Department will be monitoring the situation weekly.

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