Fremont County ready to reopen after variance approved

Posted at 8:21 PM, May 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-22 08:01:03-04

CAÑON CITY — After weeks of waiting, businesses in Fremont County got the OK to reopen in time for Memorial Day recreation with strict guidelines.

The time between Memorial Day and Labor Day is the make-or-break period for many businesses in the area. This year numbers will be limited due to COVID-19 prevention guidelines, but owners and operators say some business is better than none.

Fremont County leaders sent the proposal to the governor and state health leaders. While it's a county action, the issue is so important that Cañon City Mayor Ashley Smith did some lobbying as well.

"They let them know that time is of the essence for our businesses," Smith said. "With only four active cases in Cañon City, we needed to open up for business."

Business owners who depend on income from tourists agree.

"If we hadn't opened tomorrow we'd have been laying off a total of 300 people," said Royal Gorge Route Railroad owner Mark Greska. "That would have had a $30 million impact to the state and local economy here."

"It has been devastating," said Raft Masters owner Will Colon. "I don't know if we'll be able to fully recover completely. I'm so happy we're open by Memorial Day."

But a question getting serious attention is whether tourists nervous about COVID-19 will come for fun.

"Because of the new protocols it's going to be a lot more difficult to run a rafting company than it normally is," Colon said.

New sanitation standards are in place. Social distancing has to happen, and a big part of that is limiting capacity. The Royal Gorge Route Railroad can normally carry close to 700, but for now the limit is closer to 250.

"We'll be able to take people through the Royal Gorge at 30% capacity, and social distancing that meets the guidelines" Greska said.

"Having it just right before Memorial Day weekend is huge," Smith said. "That's when we really kick start our tourist season."

Limits and guidelines are part of the deal, but business owners are ready to get started.

"Now we're getting things together, getting boats pumped up, getting ready to go," Colon said.

"Since we made the announcement that we're reopening bookings are happening already," Greska said.

Timing is another important factor this time of year. You can raft all summer, but right now the river is running at a prime level for action.