Rocky Mountain National Park reopening amid health concerns; Grand Lake business bracing for summer
Bob Scott is entering his 52nd season in Grand Lake, but this summer will be unlike any other he’s experienced.
The tourism-based businesses in Grand County have taken quite a shaking from the COVID-19 pandemic, and Bob Scott’s Authentic Indian Jewelry store will be no exception. As summer approaches, questions linger about what tourism will look like.
In Grand Lake, one of the biggest question marks has been Rocky Mountain National Park. Rocky closed to the public March 20 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the park announced this week that it will begin a phased reopening May 27.
Scott said he’s eager to see the park open, but hopes that authorities have detailed plans in place to navigate the challenges this summer.
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“Of course we want the national park to be open, but I feel that we should proceed with caution,” Scott said. “Once the park is open to traffic, we will have people from all over the country coming into our town.”
Park officials outlined general plans for a phased reopening working with state, county and local officials as Colorado increases recreational access and services, but left many details to be determined.
One thing was certain: Park operations and services will be much different this year.
Portions of Moraine Park and Glacier Basin Campgrounds will open June 4 with half the campsites available, but Aspenglen, Timber Creek and Longs Peak Campgrounds will remain closed. Wilderness camping permits will be issued beginning May 27, as will operations for the Bear Lake Road shuttle bus.
Park staff are still determining the feasibility and timing of other services.
Businesses like Scott’s rely almost entirely on those few summer months when crowds flock to Rocky, but those crowds could also bring the coronavirus.
“Park traffic is very important to our economy here, but keeping our population safe from COVID-19 is also very important,” Scott said.
Scott mentioned he’s a senior citizen, making the coronavirus more of a threat to his health. More visitors means more risk, and Rocky brings a lot of tourists to Grand Lake.
Rocky saw a record year in 2019 with 4.6 million visitors, up 1.7% from the previous 2018 record and a 44% increase since 2012. At the Grand Lake entrance, the park logged more than half a million visitors last year.
Before the COVID-19 closure, Rocky was well on its way to another record-breaking year. As of January and February of this year, the park had already seen more than 255,000 visits, up 17% from the same time last year.
With those numbers, no one contests that Rocky and the iconic Trail Ridge Road that runs through it is the lifeblood of tourism in Grand Lake.
“Our summer business is contingent on that road being open,” Scott said. “The road being closed would be detrimental to our summer season.”
Scott added that he’s going into the summer with no expectations, good or bad. He and his business partner are preparing the store to open like normal, but he’s also been wearing a facemask to get used to having one on all the time.
“I want our customers to feel safe,” Scott said. “We are doing everything we can to be proactive and to help the circumstances we’re in seem more like normal. But I know it’s going to be different.”
As a longtime fixture in Grand Lake, he remains optimistic. After 51 seasons overcoming all kinds of obstacles, Scott sees the coronavirus as just another challenge.
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