Grand County COVID-19 trespassers revealed
27 people cited for violating Rocky Mountain National Park closure during COVID-19 shutdown
For Sky-Hi News
Friday marks two years since Rocky Mountain National Park opened following its 67-day closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Records obtained by the Sky-Hi News through a Freedom of Information Act request found that Rocky Mountain National Park issued 27 citations to people for violating the park’s COVID-19 closure, totaling more than $3,000 worth of fines. The records request was filed May 26, 2020, and filled by the National Park Service almost 22 months later on April 11, 2022.
Rocky shut down March 20, 2020, and did not reopen until May 27, 2020 — the longest the national park has ever been closed continuously. Soon after, the park introduced its timed entry permit system, which will be continuing for its third season this year beginning Friday, May 27.
The people who were ticketed for violating the closure order typically admitted to disregarding the various signs and cones marking the closure, with one man saying, “I just didn’t care. I wanted to go for a walk.” Most were fined $100 plus a $30 processing fee for the violation.
The National Park Service redacted identifying information of the people who were ticketed, citing privacy exemptions, but the locations and circumstances of the tickets were available. Ten violations took place on the western side of the park.
Park officials at the time cited the closures of ski resorts pushing spring break vacationers to Rocky, which was putting stress on the two gateway towns of Grand Lake and Estes Park at the start of the pandemic, as the reason for shutting down the park. Doing so did lead to criticisms from some in the Grand Lake area, who pointed to the park as one of the last places for locals to recreate in a safe manner during the COVID-19 shutdown.
In one incident near the North Inlet trailhead near Grand Lake, a park ranger watched four people climb over the closure barricade on May 17, 2020, according to the ticket. The ranger contacted the party and spoke with “the leader of the group.”
“They stated they didn’t agree with the closure, then stated they didn’t know about the closure and finally felt as a resident of (redacted) that they should not be getting a citation for the illegal entry,” the ranger wrote.
The party also admitted to violating the park closure on East Shore Trail the day prior.
Another incident involved two people about a half mile in on East Inlet Trail on May 12, 2020. A woman told the ranger she was staying at a vacation rental cabin in town.
“She stated that the cabin manager told her how to enter the park around the closures,” the ranger wrote. “She had parked her vehicle off park property and out of sight of the trailhead.”
Another citation took place April 4, 2020, after a woman was observed Nordic skiing through Harbison Meadow.
“I observed the female lying on top of the snow surface in the middle of the meadow enjoying the morning sun,” the responding ranger wrote.
Another ranger instructed the woman via his PA system to return to her vehicle. She told the rangers that she knew the park was closed, but that she was “looking for a new place to ski where no one else would be.”
That same day, a man took the East Shore Trail to get to the shoreline along Shadow Mountain Reservoir. Holding a tackle box and fishing pole, the man told the ranger that he was “just trying to wet a line.”
“I explained to him that he passed by four park closure signs from where he started at his truck to where he was fishing,” the ranger wrote.
Another notable violation on the western side of the park included a bicyclist on April 21, 2020, who navigated around the closure signs on Trail Ridge Road, riding several miles in before a ranger found her at the Coyote Valley Trailhead and escorted her out of the park.
Another 17 violations were issued on the eastern side of Rocky Mountain National Park, including the only one that required an appearance in court rather than a fine. In this instance on April 19, 2020, the man had received a citation or been verbally warned for violation of a closure on at least two previous occasions, according to the report.
On May 24, 2020, a ranger saw a man and woman walking around Lily Lake Trail. The man, who had a Texas driver’s license “said that they were practicing civil disobedience,” the ranger wrote.
“(Redacted) said that he didn’t care about the law, and that it was not right to be concerned about such laws when so many lives had been lost due to abortion.”
That man refused to sign the violation notice.
On the eastern side of Rocky, there were also multiple instances of people bringing their dogs along with violating the closure order. Dogs are never permitted on Rocky Mountain National Park trails.
In one instance, on May 25, 2020 at Lily Lake, two dogs were off leash and the ranger watched one dog jump into the lake and chase a duck. The parties responsible for the dogs were charged with a violation for disturbing wildlife and issued warnings for violating the closure, possessing a pet in a restricted area and failing to restrain a pet.
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