Mountain community warns backcountry enthusiasts ahead of Memorial Day weekend

GILPIN COUNTY, Colo. (KDVR) — What would be the kickoff to summer camping has some mountain communities concerned. Gilpin County is expecting an influx of visitors over the Memorial Day holiday as many county roads remain closed to non-residents

“I know everyone wants to get out, they’ve been locked up for two months. I really understand it. But we need to be patient about this process and help first responders be safe out there,” said Gilpin County Sheriff Kevin Armstrong.

Armstrong says Tolland Road continues to be a problem spot. The road leads to plenty of hiking and camping near Moffat Tunnel. The county closed access to non-residents in March after more than 1,000 backcountry enthusiasts parked along the road, preventing first responders from getting through in case of emergency.

Two months later, Armstrong says hundreds of people try to access the road on weekends and are turned away. By Friday afternoon before the holiday weekend, at least 160 people had been turned around after trying to go through the access point.

Armstrong says even with road blocks and personnel manning access points, people are finding a way into the backcountry. Since April 18, Gilpin County was involved in three backcountry rescues as the result of people violating road closures.

“Somebody was lost out there for 17 hours in the backcountry before we were able to find them,” said Armstrong. “Please help us help you by not taxing our resources. People get hurt in the backcountry, people get stranded or lost. That takes away the resources that we need to be able to respond to other criminal activity.”

Armstrong says responding to such calls also increases the risk for potential spread of COVID-19.

Fire agencies are also concerned going into the holiday weekend, as many Colorado counties remain under a fire ban.

“We’re running into a lot of people that are just ignoring the fire ban. We have lots of signs saying there’s a fire ban, but people are coming to the high country and they’re finding piles of snow around the campgrounds so they’re having fires anyway,” said Paul Ondr, Timberline Fire chief.

Timberline Fire covers 175 square miles primarily in Gilpin County and a small portion of Boulder County. Ondr says the goal of the current fire ban is to limit the spread of COVID-19 and prevent a shortage of resources.

“Oftentimes a fire will be fought by multiple agencies and some of those agencies aren’t willing to let their firefighters out of their home jurisdiction right now,” said Ondr.

Hikers and campers are advised to check their counties’ current public health orders and road closures before making plans.