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Updating campground restrictions, concerns in southern Colorado

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) -- With summer approaching, more people likely will visit local campgrounds, especially since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic stopped, limited or discouraged camping activity last summer.

What should you know if you, friends and family are making plans to go camping this summer at Rocky Mountain National Park, Cheyenne Mountain State Park or elsewhere?

On Thursday, KRDO NewsChannel 13 checked into current restrictions at state and national parks and other camping areas. Any restrictions in place may change during the next few months as more people receive the COVID-19 vaccine and local authorities tighten or relax restrictions based on conditions in certain areas.

Colorado Parks & Wildlife and the U.S. Forest Service expect to have most, if not all, camping areas open for the summer, with wearing masks and practicing social distancing as generally the only restrictions.

"We also ask people to socialize within their own group," said Mitchell Martin, manager at CMSP. "We don't have a way to enforce that, but we trust campers to do it. And we'll continue to clean bathrooms, the welcome center and other public areas frequently. Our seasonal employees will start soon and they'll help with that."

USFS spokeswoman Dawn Sanchez said that campers arriving in groups should expect additional restrictions.

"Group camping areas were closed last year because of size limits required by the pandemic," she said. "This year, they'll be open as long as guidelines are followed."

CPW and the USFS confirmed that a year ago, at the start of the pandemic and "stay at home" orders forced camping areas and parks to close for as little as a week to as long as a month.

Even with the closures resulting in fewer campers, both agencies said that they had an overall increase in visitors last year because of an increase in daytime visitors.

"We're already back to normal on camping," Martin said. "We have 61 camping spots and they're at or near capacity every day. Most of those campers made reservations six months in advance."

Sanchez said she expects an increase in USFS visitors this year, but that it likely won't be as significant as the increase after "stay at home" orders eneded last year.

KRDO also checked on issues that were a concern as recently as 2019, the year before the pandemic, such as unattended campfires, general fire danger and campsites occupied by homeless people.

Sanchez said that unattended campfires continue to happen too often, despite constant educational efforts and fines of up to $300.

"Those campfires have started many wildfires," she said. "We'll be getting drier weather and remember that we're still in a drought.. It won't take much to get a fire started."

In a story on homelessness last week, a man told KRDO that he and around a dozen members of an illegal camp near downtown Colorado Springs planned to "camp out in the mountains" to evade police enforcement.

The summer camping season unofficially kicks off on Memorial Day weekend, which is four weeks from Friday.

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Scott Harrison

Scott is a reporter for KRDO. Learn more about Scott here.

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