Rangers say social distancing is damaging Colorado trails

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JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. (KDVR) — Park officials in a number of Colorado counties are urging visitors to stay on trails, citing damage to natural resources. 

In Jefferson County, park rangers say visits have reached “unprecedented” levels, with parking lots full even on weekdays. 

“We have not seen this many visitors,” says Park Ranger Mary Ann Bonnell. “And this is coming from people who have been working for Jefferson County Open Space for over 30 years.”

Bonnell says it’s leading to crowded trails, with people still trying to maintain social distancing. 

“I talked to a couple visitors who were way off trail at South Table Mountain on Sunday,” says Bonnell. “And they said they were off the trail because the other people on the trail didn’t have face coverings. And I said, ‘You do know there are rattlesnakes,’ and then they got right back on the trail.”

Add muddy conditions to the equation, and Bonnell says some trails have been widened by more than 6 feet in places. 

Officials in Denver and Boulder say they are seeing similar problems. 

“Once you leave the trail, you’re causing extra damage to the resources you love,” Bonnell says. 

Jefferson County rangers have had to close parking lots on weekend days as they try to keep the trails at a safe volume. 

Bonnell says people who are worried about strict 6-foot social distancing need to be avoiding single-track trails. 

“If you want 6 feet between you and everybody, single-track is probably not going to be your best choice,” she says. “You just simply can’t do 6 feet in some cases on that surface.”

Bonnell also wants to remind visitors that it’s officially rattlesnake season, so leaving the trail can have dangerous results.

“When you decide to step off trail, you’re subjecting yourself to the whims of whatever is off there,” she says.

Bonnell recommends avoiding parks and open space between 9:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. on weekends, and says if you want to maintain social distancing, your best bet is to arrive early. 

“We want people to find their sanity, and get their ya-ya’s out, but we want them to do it respectfully to not only each other, but also to the resource.”

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