Fourth of July revelers have long picked Boulder’s Eben G. Fine as the place to celebrate the holiday — packing the park and the banks of Boulder Creek, leaving behind garbage and littered grounds. This year, though, restrictions from the coronavirus appeared to put a damper on the numbers that usually turn out at the park in large, and sometimes reckless, droves.
Dennis Warrington, Urban Parks manager with the Boulder Parks and Recreation Department, said Saturday’s crowds were like “night and day” compared to what he’s seen patrolling Eben G. Fine last year, when a tubing ban, due to high water, did nothing to curb the number of people who flocked to the park.
“It is definitely way more calm,” Warrington said. “People aren’t trying to break the law with drinking. I would say almost everyone I’ve encountered is recreating responsibly.”
Hundreds of people still gathered in the Eben G. Fine on Saturday, and parking was scarce along the streets bordering the park. While few appeared to be wearing masks, the groups of families and friends were distanced from one another as they spread out across the grass to picnic and lounge in the shade. Groups of people carried their tubes west down the creek path to gain access to the water. Some using the park walked their dogs or jogged along the sidewalk, and several people in red, white and blue Uncle Sam hats rode by on bicycles. A vendor sold chicharrones and snow cones from a cart.
Following mass numbers of people gathering on the banks of Boulder Creek and defying public health orders earlier this year, the city issued an order at the end of May to close the park and creekbed north of the Boulder Creek Path. Boulder announced on June 12 that it would reopen recreational facilities and playgrounds, asking people to be mindful of efforts to follow guidelines and state public health orders to prevent the spread of the highly infectious respiratory disease. On Saturday, the banks of Boulder Creek were blocked off by fencing, and signs warned people of the closure. People were still allowed to tube down the creek and could access the water just past the kayak course, west of the central part of the park.
Five parks and recreation employees patrolled the park Saturday to assist the Boulder Police Department and monitor vehicle traffic. Sgt. Tom Dowd, with the Boulder Police Department, said as of 5:15 p.m. only one person had been ticketed Saturday at Eben G. Fine. The ticket was issued to the person for “adherence to an emergency order.” Dowd said the person was not following the rule to remain outside the creek bank fencing. Last year, 70 people had been ticketed in the park on the Fourth of July. The city in 2019 sought to step up rule enforcement, including a ban on open containers, following rampant drinking and partying in the park witnessed in 2018.
On a bridge over the creek Saturday, Jenn Page, of Denver, and Jacque Gentile, of Pennsylvania, clutched lime green inner tubes and looked down at the water below, waiting for two of their friends to pass by. Gentile was visiting her friend Page and, for both, coming to the park on the Fourth of July was a first-time experience.
“We wanted to do something on the water, but thought paddleboarding (on a nearby lake) might be too busy,” Page said.
Both said they thought the water would be a little more “like a lazy river,” but still they gave tubing a try. Gentile laughed, saying she had toppled off her tube and into the creek almost instantly.
Page and Gentile said they thought the closures of the banks made sense to keep large crowds from gathering. At first, they said they were a bit discouraged when they saw the fencing, because they weren’t sure how far they would have to lug their tubes to get into the creek, but they discovered that the walk wasn’t that far from the central part of the park. As for any concerns about the spread of the virus, the friends said they felt being outdoors would allow them to socially distance and be safe.
Others who visited the park Saturday also said they understood why access to the water was limited, but lamented that it was disappointing that they couldn’t play in the creek like normal.
Chuck Swigart , of Broomfield, tossed an orange Frisbee with his family and their neighbor on the grass not far from the creek Saturday.
“I was surprised it wasn’t overloaded,” Swigart said of the park. “I was kind of disappointed, though, that we couldn’t go put our feet in the water.”
Aubrey and Eric Bochmann, of Denver, played with their dog, Mina, on Saturday.
“It’s been great,” Aubrey Bochmann said of the park atmosphere. “We wish that we could swim, but we understand why we can’t.”
The husband and wife said they had some concerns about crowds and the spread of the virus, but that they felt outside they could spread out safely. Aubrey Bochmann added that the couple was taking care to put on their masks if they passed anyone.
The virus also altered plans for Fourth of July fireworks, and shows in Longmont, Boulder and many other Denver metro area cities were canceled. While there were no fireworks to be seen, Swigart said family and friends planned to return home and continue another Fourth of July tradition: “After the park, we’re going to barbecue,” he said.