Completely booked: Routt County campgrounds full for Memorial Day weekend |

Completely booked: Routt County campgrounds full for Memorial Day weekend

As summer nears and conditions get drier, Routt County officials are urging the public to practice responsible fire safety. Residents can take steps to protect themselves and their homes from wildfires, such as clearing way dead vegetation and creating an emergency plan.
Joel Reichenberger

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Campgrounds across Routt County are gearing up for a busy Memorial Day weekend as people take advantage of loosened restrictions under the COVID-19 pandemic.

All of the state parks in the county, including Steamboat Lake, Pearl Lake, Stagecoach and Yampa River State Parks, have fully booked their campsites for the holiday weekend, according to Randy Hampton, public information officer for the Department of Natural Resources, which oversees Colorado Parks and Wildlife. 

“That’s straight across the board with most of our parks statewide,” Hampton said of the campground bookings. 

The popularity is high for other outdoor activities, such as hiking and boating. Lakes and reservoirs at parks across the state have seen spikes in visitation by about 30% compared to this time last year, according to Hampton.

“I had a park manager tell me that last weekend, not even a holiday weekend, was busier than Fourth of July weekend last year,” he said.

The excitement comes after Gov. Jared Polis allowed state campgrounds, operated by CPW, to reopen under the safer-at-home order. Campgrounds in Routt County have been open since Tuesday following an amendment to the local lodging ban.  

While local officials encourage people to get outside to enjoy the holiday, they also are urging responsible behavior, from following health guidelines to practicing fire safety. 

In a news release from Routt County on Wednesday, officials highlighted fire prevention measures ahead of the weekend, such as completely extinguishing campfires when done and not throwing cigarettes out of a moving car. 

“Although we’re not in fire restrictions currently, I would use an abundance of caution and common sense when using fire recreationally or as a tool,” Routt County Sheriff Garrett Wiggins, who also acts as the local fire warden, said in the release. 

The risk of wildfires currently is low in the area, according to Fire Chief Chuck Wisecup with the Oak Creek Fire Protection District, who also has been working with the county’s emergency operations center during the COVID-19 crisis. Green vegetation and cooler temperatures have helped with conditions.

“That’s not to say something couldn’t happen,” he added. 

Preventing wildfires
  • Build and monitor responsible fires.
  • Never burn in windy conditions.
  • Report anything suspicious to the authorities.
  • Make sure flammable chemicals are in proper containers and stored safely.
  • Dispose of flammable/hazardous waste responsibly.
  • Extinguish fire pits and campfires when done.
  • Don’t throw lit cigarettes out of your moving car.
  • Use caution when using flammable liquids.
  • Pay attention to local ordinances for trash burning.
  • Pay attention to the risk of forest fires in your area.

Source: Routt County

A wildfire would not only cause major damage to the natural landscape and endanger human lives, it would exacerbate the resources of fire departments that already are stretched thin amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Practicing health guidelines would be difficult for firefighters battling a blaze, and the need for outside resources could increase their risk of exposure.  

“It could really turn into an ordeal,” Wisecup said. 

As of Wednesday, a fire ban within the regional National Forest has been lifted, according to a news release from the U.S. Forest Service.

A closure on developed recreation sites within the National Forest, including campgrounds, has been extended through the end of the month. Many developed sites in Routt County are not accessible this time of year anyway due to snow or mud. 

Dispersed camping is permitted as long as people follow the seven principles of Leave No Trace ethics, such as properly disposing of waste and being respectful to other people and wildlife. 

All regular rules remain in place across public lands, such as paying camping and day-use fees, receiving a boat inspection before taking it in the water and keeping dogs on a leash in required areas. Park employees are enforcing health guidelines to keep themselves and the public safe. 

Steamboat Lake and Stagecoach Reservoir are open for boating, but Pearl Lake is closed to trailered boats, according to Kelly Cook, administrative assistant for the visitors center at Steamboat Lake. Due to the cold water, she recommends people not only have a personal flotation device on their water craft, as required, but that they actually wear it while on the water. 

Some services may be limited, and officials encourage campers to come prepared with their own supplies like hand sanitizer and toilet paper. Visitors centers and some group areas will be closed. People should pay attention to any signage and look on the website for the state park they plan to visit to learn about any closures or restrictions. 

The public can address their camping questions to the local CPW office by calling 970-870-2197. The office is closed to in-person visitors.

To reach Derek Maiolo, call 970-871-4247, email or follow him on Twitter @derek_maiolo.

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