A COVID-19 plea to recreationists

Denver Water asks people to stay put and help take pressure off our employees, facilities and mountain communities.

April 10, 2020 | By: Jose Salas

I still remember the first time I visited Waterton Canyon. I was a new Denver Water employee and couldn’t believe so much beauty could be that close to the city.

At Waterton Canyon you can spot a herd of bighorn sheep, a fox or even a bear (note: please don’t feed the animals if you see one).

Now that I think about it, this is probably why it is one of the most popular recreation areas in the Denver metro area.

With that said, things have changed for everyone in the past few months. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced people around the world to make changes in how they live and work. That includes us.

Some of the steps we’ve taken to ensure a safe, reliable drinking water supply to the metro area include closing Waterton Canyon, to help ensure employee and public safety.

Waterton Canyon closed to the public

We know that closing Waterton Canyon is disappointing for many and an inconvenience as the public tries to find safe places to be outdoors. But, the increase in usage meant more people congregating – especially when a bighorn sheep would make its way to the road, which is a regular occurrence in the canyon. This certainly didn’t follow the guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment for social distancing to help stop the spread of Coronavirus.

Additionally, the canyon is a working facility and living quarters for some of Denver Water’s employees and their families. These employees use the road 24/7/365 to maintain the many elements of this operational facility. Added recreationists make that more challenging.

Sign at Waterton Canyon announcing about closer.
On March 17, 2020, Denver Water announced it would be closing Waterton Canyon to the public indefinitely. Photo credit: Denver Water.


“Waterton Canyon is a service road for our essential employees who live in the canyon and use it to maintain a reliable drinking water supply for 1.5 million people in the Denver metro area,” said Heath Stuerke, Strontia Springs Dam supervisor. “The closure will help protect employees, their families and the public during this situation by limiting exposure for everyone.”

Additional Denver Water recreation closures and restrictions

All of the recreation areas that Denver Water operates serve as an operational facility first and foremost. And, over the past few weekends we have seen record or near-record numbers of recreationists at some of our other facilities.

This is very concerning for the safety of our facility operators, rangers and staff. And, in many cases, these facilities, like Cheesman, Antero and Williams Fork reservoirs, are in remote locations –- typically near towns that aren’t prepared to handle the influx of visitors while managing the COVID-19 situation for their communities.

“More recreationists in these small towns is not only putting yourself at risk for increased exposure, but also puts more pressure and exposure to those in the communities, first responders and our employees working to maintain our vital water operations,” said Brandon Ransom, manager of recreation for Denver Water. “The better job we do at recreating near our homes now the safer our employees and communities will be and the quicker we can get back to normal.”

Even facilities in some more populated areas, like Gross Reservoir in Boulder County and Dillon Reservoir in Summit County, have been hit hard by the virus while experiencing an up-tick in recreational visitors, creating difficult discussions for officials on how to manage this state-wide challenge.

At this time, Denver Water has also closed campsites at Antero and Williams Fork reservoirs until further notice to align with Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the U.S. Forest Service guidance.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife tweet about all playgrounds, campgrounds, camping and camping facilities closed.
On March 26, Colorado Parks and Wildlife announced changes and restrictions to parks via its Twitter account.


We are continuing to evaluate the current COVID-19 situation and will work with our partners and experts to decide on additional recreation restrictions, if any, explained Ransom.

“Because things can change in a matter of minutes, we encourage recreationists to visit denverwater.org to check for closures before you head out to any of our recreation areas,” he said.

Here are some recommendations from our partners at Jefferson County before you decide to go out:

  • Do not leave your home unless you absolutely need to. This is especially important if you are sick. Until Colorado lifts its stay-at-home order, please practice social distancing and reduce the spread of COVID-19.
  • Stay as close to home as possible. Try something in your own backyard, take a walk or bike ride around the block, or visit a neighborhood park (just leave any playground equipment untouched). Recreate only with people from your own household.
  • Avoid crowds. Parks and trailheads tend to be less busy early in the morning or late in the day.

Closures and restrictions throughout Colorado

The U. S. Forest Service announced the closure of all developed recreation sites, campgrounds, restrooms and have asked the public to disperse across the National Forest system in no groups greater than 10 individuals.

Gunnison County even directed visitors and non-resident homeowners to stay away. The county’s public health director was concerned about the burden on local health care services as well as the fact that people from lower altitudes can be at greater risk for complications from the virus as they are not acclimatized to the higher elevation in Gunnison County.

Moral of the story? If you want to go out and enjoy the outdoors on a beautiful Colorado day, we simply ask that you do it close to home so that you don’t put others at risk. The statewide Stay-At-Home order issued by Gov. Jared Polis will help us get through this together, but only if everyone follows it. Mountain towns and communities, as well as our employees and facilities based there, need a little extra space and a break.

So, this is our plea to you. Please don’t drive up to what was once a secluded and remote facility to get outside. Instead, we recommend you stay in your neighborhoods until we get back to normal. Who knows, you might discover something new, fun or exiting in your own backyard.

For now, here are a few images shared by some of Waterton Canyon’s most loyal visitors. We thank you for sharing these amazing photos over the years and hope that we can all soon get back to normal and visit our favorite recreation areas.

35 thoughts on “A COVID-19 plea to recreationists”

  1. Jose,
    Do you have any update on whether Waterton Canyon closure will be lifted when the Governor “stay at home” mandate is lifted?

    1. Hi Keith, thank you for your comment and reading TAP. Denver Water, like many agencies and businesses, is feeling its way forward during the situation around COVID-19. We must balance the importance of keeping our employees safe, and ensuring the continued delivery of safe, clean water to our customers, with the desire to share our facilities for recreation. Be sure to check the recreation sites on denverwater.org to find out whether locations have been reopened.

      1. Jose,
        Google Maps recently omitted Waterton Canyon Trailhead and upon searching for it, I found it listed as PERMANENTLY CLOSED.
        Previously, for the last 2 months it had been listed as Closed due to Covid-19. It also no longer had the thousands of reviews. Please let us know that it will re-open. The risk to employees is very limited as there are windows on their vehicles.

    1. Hi Nick, thank you for reading TAP. Appreciate the support. Although we plan to open up boating on May 1 at Antero Reservoir, Denver Water continues to evaluate the current COVID-19 situation and will work with our partners and experts to decide on recreation restrictions, if any. We are also working to minimize delays during boat inspections due to current social distancing protocols. Please note, camping and picnic areas at Antero Reservoir are currently closed until further notice. Be sure to check the recreation sites on denverwater.org to find out whether locations have any restrictions or closures.

    1. Hi Chuck, as of right now, we do plan to open Cheesman on May 1, but please be sure to check the recreation sites on denverwater.org to find out whether locations have any restrictions or closures before you head out. Denver Water, like many agencies and businesses, is feeling its way forward during the situation around COVID-19.

    1. Hi Melody, thank you for question. Yes, fishing is open at Antero Reservoir. Please note, camping and picnic areas at Antero Reservoir are currently closed until further notice. Be sure to check the recreation sites on denverwater.org to find out whether locations have any restrictions or closures.

  2. Has Waterton Canyon reopened yet? I’m getting conflicting reports.

    And I’m sorry, but there is no way people are as crowded in that canyon as they are at any grocery store. Closing was short sighted and selfish to the public. I understand Denver Water owns some land on the river at the entrance, but it’s pure garbage that they close a public access to our National Forest beyond.

    If your employees are in their trucks, as they always are on that road, they have no chance of infection. I find it very hard to believe anybody hiking is going to get too close to an employee or anybody else. I’ve been hiking and fishing all over the Front Range since this outbreak and people on the trails have been very good about social distancing unless with family members.

    Being outside has been one of the key parts we’ve learned in the studies to fight this virus. Sunshine and clean air makes a huge difference.

    If it’s not open now, it needs to be soon.

    1. I whole heartedly agree with Jack. Denver Water has overreacted as it often does, and acts as if it owns the S. Platte River, which it does not.

    1. Hello, thank you for your question. Fishing at Williams Fork is open for shoreline fishing or via portable crafts (non-motorized). Please be sure to check the recreation sites on denverwater.org to find out whether locations have any restrictions or closures before you head out. Denver Water, like many agencies and businesses, is feeling its way forward during the situation around COVID-19. Here’s the link to Williams Fork Reservoir: https://www.denverwater.org/recreation/williams-fork-resevoir

  3. Was at Williams fork over the weekend seen numerous violations. People driving on the shores around the blocked off roads, seen one group of guys drive down to the shore back the boat trailer into the water, (boat ramp on closed). Several people parking in the grass instead of the dirt parking lot. Is all of this legal? (I did contact the DOW, was told he got the plate number for the vehicle that put the trailer in the water, wonder how he did that when there is t cameras present)

    1. Hi Jon,

      Thanks for letting us know. If you see something that is an emergency, call 911. If people are not following Denver Water’s rules for recreation, please call our Customer Care team at 303-893-2444 and let them know.

  4. Today Governed Polis opened camping at parks. Is Williams fork reservoir now open for camping and boating, or when will it be open ?

    1. As of today, May 14, Denver Water has opened Williams Fork for RV camping. Be sure to know and follow the rules for this Denver Water facility before visiting. You can find those rules here.

    1. Hi Andrew,
      We are currently working on a reopening plan that ensures the safety of our employees, recreationists and facility operations. Recreation opportunities at Denver Water facilities can be found at denverwater.org/Recreation and by clicking the link (listed on the right side of the recreation page) that is dedicated to that facility. If you don’t see a note on that facility’s webpage, then you can expect the typical guidelines for the facility to be in place.

  5. Hello. My question is about the South Platte River where it flows through Englewood. My adult children want to paddle board there with their young children. Is this allowed, and is there any possibility of covid19 danger or other dangerous pathogens in this area of the river.
    Thank you

    1. Hi RH,
      Denver Water does not manage the South Platte River as it flows through Englewood, but the City of Englewood or Arapahoe County may be able to provide information on recreation opportunities in or near the river. Here’s a link to the South Platte Working Group that Arapahoe County convened. They may be a good place to start.

  6. Closing Waterton canyon just puts added pressure on parks that are open. Makes no logical sense to close an outdoor recreation area when it’s proven contracting Covid19 outdoors is much less likely than indoors.

  7. Any updates on reopening Waterton Canyon?

    If the plea is to continue recreating close to home, is Denver Water promoting the opposite behavior by reopening the more remote facilities and keeping Waterton closed?

    1. Hi Mark,
      Good news! We are reopening Waterton Canyon – weekdays only at this time – as of Monday, June 15.

      You can read more about the reopening on the Denver Water website. But in general, the canyon will follow normal operating hours on WEEKDAYS ONLY, opening a half hour before sunrise and closing a half hour after sunset, and will remain closed on weekends until further notice.

      Please note that, as part of a phased reopening plan, Denver Water will closely monitor the weekday use over the next month to inform a successful weekend opening as well.

      Thanks for your patience as we work through the challenges associated with recreation in the canyon, which continues its role as an important operating facility supporting the drinking water needs of 1.5 million people across the metro area.

  8. I believe that Cheesman would be an incredible place for kayaking when this virus settles down. Why is kayaking not allowed on Cheesman reservoir? will there ever be a point when it will be considered.
    How do we push this type of request?

    1. Hi there,
      Thanks for your question. We agree, Cheesman is an incredible, beautiful place — and one of Denver Water’s larger reservoirs that 1.5 million people rely on for their water.

      Because it’s an important supply of water for the Denver area, Denver Water must ensure it is protected. When a boat, motorized or non-motorized, comes into contact with a reservoir, there are risks to that body of water involved, such as the spread of aquatic nuisance species. You can check out this story about preventing the introduction or spread of aquatic nuisance species.

      On those Denver Water reservoirs where watercraft vessels are allowed, strict regulations and practices, such as boat inspections and disinfection, are in place. But at this time, neither Denver Water nor the U.S. Forest Service has the resources to implement these necessary enforcement and protection programs at Cheesman. It’s not the same, but we hope you can enjoy Cheesman’s other offerings, including hiking, fishing and scenic overlooks.

    1. Hi there,
      Thanks for the question, and your patience with our reply. You’ll need to check with local jurisdictions on whether the river, as if flows through their area, is open and available. Also, please note that you should make sure you are putting in and taking out on publicly accessible land.

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