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From the onset of the COVID-19 crisis, we identified two primary threats to our community. First and most immediate was the novel virus itself because little was known about its aggressive nature. The second was the collateral damage to our economy.

Chaffee County relies heavily on tourism, and our campgrounds and short-term rentals (STRs) are key elements of our leisure industry market. These groups play a key role in awakening our economy and now can aid significantly in preventing community spread of the coronavirus.

Courtesy photo: A short term rental managed by Effortless Rental Group

The “Stay home, stay within your zip code, please don’t visit small mountain communities” message, and the state’s attempts to disincentivize visitation with closures met with limited success. Individuals and families from inside and outside Colorado continued to flow into Chaffee County while potentially bringing the virus with them. The STRs and campground closures meant a significant number of these people chose to stay on public lands and weren’t heeding our current fire restrictions – increasing the threat of wildfire in our complex threat matrix.

We conveyed this dilemma to state leaders at every opportunity and ultimately asked for campground and STR restrictions to be lifted. Thankfully the Colorado Department of Health and the Environment (CDPHE) approved our variance request enabling us to allow reopenings.

Lodging facilities frontline staff also provide vital communication opportunities to share our community message to enjoy life, but to please be prudent; follow the social distancing guidelines, comply with masking recommendations, and use good personal hygiene practices.

I often use the analogy of transiting rough air in an airliner or crossing rough seas. It may be unnerving but in general, it’s safe if we take the necessary precautions and pay attention to what we’re doing.

Our innkeepers, campground operators, and STR owners/managers are doing their part by following strict protocols and checklists to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. This is one more way Chaffee County citizens are continuing to work together and show overwhelming unity to defeat the COVID-19 threat and restore from the crisis.

Photo courtesy of Campendium

Keith Baker

Chaffee County Commissioner