Fort Collins parks, natural areas record more visitation amid COVID-19

Noah Pasley

Judging by the warm, sunny days this past week, many Colorado State University students remaining in the Fort Collins area may have arrived at the conclusion that spring was upon us, and many of them may have flocked outdoors because of that. For some people, it’s a way of coping with being cooped up because of the novel coronavirus outbreak.

Zoe Shark, Natural Areas public engagement manager and interim Natural Areas department director, said the effect of recent warm weather on Fort Collins’ natural areas has been significant.

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Shark said daily visitation recorded at parks recently is similar to that of visitation normally recorded on a busy spring weekend, leading to a 40-50% increase in visitation overall. 

Out of the 44 open natural areas in Fort Collins, Shark said the natural areas experiencing the highest visitation are Maxwell, Pineridge, Coyote Ridge, Bobcat Ridge and Reservoir Ridge. She said she encourages the community to try other natural areas or visit at “off-peak” times. 

“In some of the busiest natural areas, we have … a camera on the parking lot so you can check to see if there’s parking before you go, so we really encourage people to look at that,” Shark said.

For instance, Bobcat Ridge, Coyote Ridge and Reservoir Ridge natural areas all have webcams set up.

Fort Collins parks have also seen an increase in visitation, said Valerie Van Ryn, lead marketing specialist for the Fort Collins Parks and Recreation Department. 

“People have been taking full advantage of the great open space network throughout our community,” Van Ryn said. “People are doing their level best to maintain physical distancing while utilizing our spaces. Most weekdays now look like our normal weekend use.”

We’re encouraging people to recreate close to your home to eliminate some of those extra trips and outings and … congregating of people in more busy spaces. … It’s meant to be shorter trips closer to home, where you’re able to be a little more prepared.” -Valerie Van Ryn, lead marketing specialist, Parks and Recreation, Fort Collins

Van Ryn spoke to the importance of parks during the COVID-19 outbreak.

“We really recognize that these spaces, including natural areas, are providing this vital area for our community to get outside when we are all feeling a lot of confinement in our homes or managing stress, mental well-being and that sort of thing,” Van Ryn said. “So, we as a community are working really hard to keep parks and natural areas available while following all of those recommended guidelines from public health partners.”

At this time, 44 out of the 51 natural areas in Fort Collins are currently open to the public due to measures put in place to preserve and maintain some of the dirt trails during wet weather, Shark said. Additionally, some parks remain open, but certain amenities have been shut down, according to the Fort Collins Parks website.

Among the amenities shut down are playgrounds, picnic areas and dog parks, as well as bathrooms in parks and natural areas, according to the Parks website. Skate parks, disc golf and other recreational areas and activities have also been shut down or restricted, and golfing is not allowed, but the courses remain open for walkers or runners.

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According to the Parks website, the Parks department urges all users of parks and natural areas to recreate responsibly, refrain from using parks or trails if exhibiting symptoms, observe the minimum physical distancing recommendation of six feet and share trails accordingly. 

“We’re encouraging people to recreate close to your home to eliminate some of those extra trips and outings and … congregating of people in more busy spaces,” Van Ryn said. “So, the idea is that if you do have a neighborhood park, we recommend you wash your hands before you go out and knowing and being prepared that there will not be a restroom facility available at this time. It’s meant to be shorter trips closer to home, where you’re able to be a little more prepared.”

Noah Pasley can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @PasleyNoah.