mcinnis canyon

Reporter Seth Boster returns to his tent perched on the cliffs above the Colorado River in the Knowles Canyon Overlook Campground in June. The campground, with its spectacular view of the Colorado River below, was empty on the warm summer night.

After staying closed through the traditionally busy Memorial Day weekend, campgrounds began reopening Monday across Colorado's national forests and grasslands.

An order outlining restrictions due to COVID-19, including for campfires, has been lifted. Still, fire bans remain throughout major destinations in the Rocky Mountains, including within the Pike and San Isabel national forests.

As of Monday, other national forests with fire restrictions included the Arapaho, Roosevelt, Rio Grande, San Juan and some parts of the White River.

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A U.S. Forest Service news release states that "local units will decide the operational status of developed recreation sites and fire restrictions after assessing conditions and working closely with local, state and federal officials." According to the Colorado Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management's website Monday, 29 of the state's 64 counties reported fire restrictions.

The Forest Service's previous order "discouraged" recreation on its lands. Now people "are encouraged to recreate safely and responsibly" under some guidelines.

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That includes staying close to home "to keep other communities safe," the agency's news release says. Visitors should also "prepare for limited or no services, such as restroom facilities and garbage collection." The Forest Service is advising social distancing and to avoid crowded parking lots and trails.

The agency reiterated its mantra: know before you go. Many land managers are reporting snow and weather delays for some campgrounds. Heading into June, some, including the Arapahoe, Roosevelt and Rio Grande national forests, expected delays as they awaited personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies.

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