Novel Coronavirus Brings New, Unusual Issues to Gunnison County

Trail Adjacent to Western Colorado University

Unusual times. The curriculum at Western Colorado University is being delivered remotely for the remainder of the spring semester. And the trails adjacent to campus are open only to residents of Gunnison County.

We have been referring to this virus as Novel Coronavirus. The virus is not the only thing novel to our little valley. Novel also is our need to respond responsibly to a global pandemic. That’s novel to everyone who has put a shoulder to the wheel these past three weeks to keep people safe.

Some large body of nonresident homeowners has felt aggrieved by emergency response orders asking they not come to the valley. As well, nonresident homeowners here at the outbreak of the virus were understandably anxious that they should have to apply for a waiver to stay where they were at the time—namely, at their home in the valley. What would happen if the waiver wasn’t granted? A forced departure?

Truly, this could turn into an Us vs Them.

As in so much of life, a failure to communicate clearly leads to unnecessary troubles.

As it turns out, Gunnison County Public Health Director Joni Reynolds has approved all nonresident homeowner requests to stay on site for those who were caught here at the sudden end of the ski season. This includes the elderly who Joni judged would be put at more risk by travel than if they simply stayed put.

Someone pointed out to me that Pitkin County had a more enlightened response to nonresident homeowner residency than we. Nonresident homeowners to our north were given a blanket exemption to stay and at the same time asked to leave the Roaring Fork Valley. Joni has done something different. She has welcomed nonresident homeowners to stay, and for the benefit of their safety. She has not said, “You’re welcome to stay but I wish you wouldn’t,” which is how I read the Pitkin County communication.

Then there is the question of nonresident homeowner travel to our valley. Non-essential travel is banned both in our state and in our valley. Thankfully, for those of us here, included in essential travel is to liquor stores and Hartman singletrack. For that I am personally and forever grateful. But what qualifies for essential travel to the valley for those whose homes are someplace else? If someone were to have left a pot roast in the refrigerator, is it essential to return to the valley to put it in the freezer? Even considering the refrigerator in the future will need some baking soda to be returned to normal. Waivers for travel back to the valley have generally not been granted.

As for the legality of keeping nonresidents from their second homes, I will let the county and the Texas Attorney General mud-wrestle. I will say that there are illegal actions that I think are perfectly fine, and legal actions that I think are perfectly awful. It is more than a shame that in this novel time, legal action is being undertaken to challenge local decisions that were taken in good faith and with the best of intentions for all, including those nonresident homeowners who found themselves here in mid-March and are still more than welcome to remain here.

Here is, then, the clarification of Joni Reynolds’ thinking on the nonresident homeowner order:

We understand that Gunnison County’s ban on non-resident homeowners, with exceptions, needs more explaining. And that there has been extreme angst, anger, and fear that have followed this decision. Rest assured that was not our intention.

A blanket ban cannot account for extenuating circumstances. Many non-resident homeowners were here before the coronavirus rocked our community.

We have received 199 non-resident exemption requests to date. Those waivers applied for by nonresident homeowners who were here in February and, later, when the lifts closed, have all been approved.

At the same time, almost all requests for waivers for travel into our valley by non-resident homeowners have been denied. Non-essential travel is banned here in our valley and across our state.

The COVID-19 outbreak event will shift in the future and Public Health Orders will also be reflective of those changes.

The non-resident exemption form can be found on our website here.

-John Norton, Executive Director, Tourism and Prosperity Partnership

Author: John Norton

15 Responses to Novel Coronavirus Brings New, Unusual Issues to Gunnison County

  1. John,

    Agreed this was a huge, unenlightened mistep which was made as the Crested Butte News indicated: “The bottom line was that the spat generated publicity and the local public health director received hundreds of exemption requests that she analyzed, granting most. She also amended the public health order to be more reflective of the situation on the ground. The county basically issued an apology on how the whole the thing was handled.”

    To be honest, I’m not sure why she’s still in her job having created a huge problem without having first bothered to acquire the requisite information. It’s an embarrassment.

    That said, we are NYC based second homeowners who are here in Crested Butte and have been for months. I’d like to talk to you about leveraging my expertise to see if there’s some sort of tourism based campaign we could develop to offset the damage given the national press.

    I was very vocal. VERY early about the egregious missteps and this kind of strategy work is what I do.

    Please let me know if I can help.

    Susan Berkowitz

  2. My primary residence is Colorado Springs. I do have a second residence in Gunnison. I would absolutely love to spend my summer in Gunnison, however, I fully understand and support Gunnison County Health Department decisions……. stay strong and don’t let anybody bully you into jeopardizing the lives that are at stake….. We love and miss Gunnison so much. We have fallen in love with the community and we call at home. I hasten the day I can come back, but until then Gunnison County, please stay safe and healthy..

  3. Mr. Norton,
    I absolutely admire your stance regarding this issue. That said, I appreciate how hard it must be for someone in your position to have to weigh in. I live west of Colorado Springs and my husband and I camp in Gunnison several times a year to mountain bike, hike, and ride our motorcycles. We love it there. We support Gunnison’s decisions to try and mitigate and contain this virus – not that you need our support, but I wanted to add my voice. We live in Colorado and we would never dream of coming there even if we had a home in the GCB area! You successfully dodged the 1918 pandemic by doing exactly the same thing you are doing now. I can genuinely ask some questions: Are people so spoiled and entitled that they have to act in a petulant manner when they don’t get their way? Why is it so hard to knuckle down and stay home? Especially if home means another state – again, why is it so hard to follow the “non-essential travel” rules? Would it be so detrimental to your lives to not come to your second home for only one year or one season? This is arguably the biggest event in our collective lifetimes after 9/11. It astounds me that traveling to a second home means more to some than trying to stop the spread of this insidious plague. There are people who are LOSING their primary residence, so imagine what they are dealing with. Gunnison, stay strong, stay vigilant, and don’t waiver.

  4. It is your community, town and county – you are right to do what you think is right. The outlanders with money should not be able to over ride local governance.

    I’m just an outlander, but have always enjoyed your valley over the years. Keep up the good fight!

  5. We visit GCB every spring/summer and love the area. We hold no animosity over your right to control things where you live. There are always “privileged” people who think they should do whatever they want even to the detriment of others. Your policy was very fair. Be assured we will be back to support the area when it is safe and you say it is ok to return.

  6. Did you get a paper cut when they yanked the Bill of Rights out of your hands?

    “Better safe than sorry”. They were just looking out for your safety

  7. Keep doing what your doing
    I love the people and the valley, tell the others too kiss off and go spread their COVID 19 somewhere else and leave the valley alone

  8. So let me get this straight . . . a Gunnison county residence who drives to Denver and returns is asked to self-isolate for two weeks, while a second-home owner from Denver who drives to visit his own house in Gunnison county is forbidden entrance under threat of an 18-month jail sentence? Gunnison County claims that its actions were justified by its high altitude although no other ski town in North America (to my knowledge) issued a similar ban? Yes, there does seem to be an us-versus-them split growing, which I regret, but “those pesky Texans” treated the visitors they received from New York and Louisiana much better than the residents of Gunnison County have treated them.

  9. Hello? Anybody there? Any response from Gunnison County? An explanation for why you expect out-of-county homeowners to flood into Gunnison County when Gunnison County is already a coronavirus hotspot (triggered by locals who were vacationing elsewhere?). The worst part is that you keep defending your original decision. Just apologize.

  10. David- I agree wholeheartedly. The stance taken by Gunnison County is misguided and concerning. Ski Towns such as Crested Butte rely on “out of county tourism,” including second homeowners to survive and the “we versus they ” mentality has been an issue long before COVID. As the nation will be dealing with this pandemic possibly until 2022, the County must come to terms with the evolving situation following evidence based guidelines for maintaining health while restoring the economy for current and future generations. Instead of impractically barring all visitors, the county must adopt social distancing, hand washing, contact tracing, and screening until serology testing and a vaccine is available. We are in this for the long haul and community imposed isolation is not sustainable. It is time to eliminate divisive thinking and realize that we all need each other to help Gunnison survive and recover.

  11. “As it turns out, Gunnison County Public Health Director Joni Reynolds has approved all nonresident homeowner requests to stay on site for those who were caught here at the sudden end of the ski season.”
    She said that AFTER the second homeowners had left because of her decree that they must leave under penalty of fine and/or imprisonment.

  12. I just want to go fishing out there. I would normally give business to your food spots but is fishing banned as well now?

    • Fishing isn’t banned, but travel is from out of valley. And there are no places to rent a room or to sit down and eat. –John Norton

  13. This is easy. When a person (or governmental entity) tells you who they are it is always important to listen. Gunnison County has made it clear that outsider homeowners are unwelcome. Anyone in the market for a second home should just look elsewhere.

    • As the former Undersheriff of Gunnison County, and a resident for a number of years before that, I have mixed emotions about the travel ban for Gunnison County. I had planned on passing through there on my way from Durango to Denver next month but now must cancel that. I now live in New Mexico and traveled to Texas recently. I had to self-quarantine in both states but was NOT banned from even going to or from those states. I don’t know the extent of the virus problem in Gunnison/CB but it must be terrible to threaten to fine and jail people just for being there and not a full-time resident. I wonder if the current sheriff, or my friend Scott Jackson, would actually carry out these threats? And would retired Sheriff Rick Murdie’s son Adam welcome them to the detention center? I would have certainly had a hard time enforcing those threats!

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