San Juan County (Colorado) Sheriff Bruce Conrad has issued a “locals only” policy prohibiting backcountry recreation, including skiing and snowmobiling, on all lands within the county to minimize the chance that first-responders will be called to a backcountry rescue while simultaneously dealing with a COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re a small community. On a good day, San Juan County has limited search-and-rescue infrastructure and the same people who would be part of a search and rescue are the same EMS personnel who provide services to our community. We don’t want them to be overtaxed,” said DeAnne Gallegos, spokeswoman for San Juan County Emergency Management Office.
The policy, put in place Saturday, allows for local-only and drive-through traffic on U.S. Highway 550 through San Juan County, but it doesn’t allow people to stop to access backcountry destinations in the county.
“We are worried about a high number of out-of-county vehicles parked off Highway 550 for backcountry trips,” Gallegos said. “Now, with COVID-19, our search-and-rescue services are even more limited. We understand the forest is a prime recreational opportunity and with everyone at home it might seem like a good idea to hit the backcountry, but it is our county’s first responders who are responsible for helping people if they get in trouble, and with the current situation we can’t afford to have them pulled away for a backcountry rescue.”
According to a statement from Conrad, vehicles parked on the side of passes on U.S. Highway 550 not registered in San Juan County will be subject to fines and towing.
Conrad discussed his concerns about the high number of out-of-county vehicles parked alongside Highway 550 with the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service , Gallegos said.
Gallegos said the county’s Emergency Management Office was following Sheriff’s Office orders contained within the locals only policy issued by Conrad. Calls to Conrad were not immediately returned Sunday afternoon.
Gallegos said she expects the county to issue another public health order perhaps as soon as Sunday night or perhaps Monday that will ban any new check-ins to county hotels, motels, Airbnbs or vacation rentals.
The San Juan County Emergency Management Office has been working with local businesses, including Silverton Grocery, to ensure a supply of goods to the remote mountain town of Silverton, which has a population of only about 650 people. But on Sunday, Gallegos said Silverton Grocery, like retailers across the state and the country, is having a difficult time keeping paper goods in stock, especially toilet paper.
Emergency Management is also working with gas stations to ensure a supply of gasoline diesel fuel.
A group of local volunteers are also working to help run errands, shop and offer other assistance to Silverton’s elderly population, Gallegos said.
“We have people picking up prescriptions from both north and south, meeting other needs like grocery deliveries and providing access to hot meals if needed,” Gallegos said.
She added: “These are unprecedented times, and we are doing what we can to secure San Juan County residents. So we want to limit the number of unnecessary people in the county.”
Both San Juan County and the town of Silverton declared Local Disaster Emergency Declarations from March 18 trough Wednesday.
The locals only policy comes in addition to those emergency declarations.
The county’s and the town’s emergency declarations led to:
The opening of an emergency operations center as a central clearinghouse for resources and information about COVID-19.The encouragement of cancellation or postponement of all nonessential meetings and gatherings.The encouragement of businesses to allow remote work whenever feasible.The encouragement of all county residents to remain at home whenever firstname.lastname@example.org This story has been updated to clarify Sheriff Bruce Conrad’s discussions with the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service.