Despite the cancellation of the Fourth of July parade, pictured here in 2019, hotels and businesses have been busy with visitors this weekend. (Planet file photo)

The Fourth of July has long been a popular weekend in Telluride, with throngs of visitors and residents alike lining Colorado Avenue for the colorful annual parade, and gathering in Town Park for the traditional fire department BBQ. Of course, these staple events will not be happening this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but that doesn’t mean Telluride’s Fourth of July weekend has lost its luster. On the contrary, despite the cancellations and public health restrictions, visitors have increasingly returned to the beloved box canyon after a sequestered spring.

Hotels and short-term lodging in San Miguel County are currently in the second phase of the phased reopening plan, carefully structured by local officials and public health experts to avoid reaching an untenable level of coronavirus cases in the region. Under current restrictions, hotels and lodging providers can operate at up to 50 percent average capacity, not to exceed 65 percent on any given night. Phase three, contingent upon reevaluation by officials, is slated to begin July 13, allowing for up to 75 percent capacity.

“In terms of visitation and lodging metrics, March 14 was the last time we welcomed more guests,” said Michael Martelon, CEO and president of the Telluride Tourism Board. “To be on the safe side, today the (lodging oversight) committee made the decision to shut down any open availability for July 3 or July 4 as paid occupancy was just under the approved one-night occupancy level.”

India Hillburn, reservations manager at Hotel Telluride, confirmed that the hotel has been busy, reaching its maximum capacity allowance most nights last week.

“We are hitting occupancy almost every night,” Hillburn said. “We’re seeing a lot of people that are not making reservations, they’re just coming into town and deciding they want to stay the night and calling us, but sometimes we’re at occupancy so we’re having to turn them away. … But it’s good to be back and in the new flow of things.”

Despite the demand for guest accommodations, the restrictions necessitated by the pandemic have had their effect, with overall numbers down compared to previous years, according to Larry Mallard, CEO of Alpine Lodging.

“Our company is down 27.3 percent versus 2019,” Mallard explained. “The summer season itself is down about 35 percent, but the good numbers in January and February brought the number up a bit,” compared to last year, he said.

Given the recent spate of new cases in San Miguel County, those in the lodging industry are urging visitors and residents to maintain a strict observance of preventative public health guidelines, including wearing masks in public and maintaining social distancing standards.

“This Independence Day is all about being vigilant in following health protocols and being able to fully engage the community, our guests, our part-time locals and anyone who decides to visit that we take this very seriously, and if you’re here, we hope and expect you to do as we do while you’re here,” Martelon said, adding, “We are a small community that thrives on our ability to share this special place that we call home. As a community, we need to be healthy in order to do that, thus, face coverings, social distancing, devoted attention to hygiene. If you’re sick, you should stay home and call a doctor. It’s not a complicated concept.”

Mallard noted that the rise in cases of the virus has not come as a surprise, but nonetheless requires dedication to following preventative measures.

“We knew with the reintroduction of second homeowners and lodging guests that we’d have additional cases of COVID-19,” he said. “That’s turned out to be true and will likely rise further. We’ll continue to stress vigilance amongst the lodging group to maintain all safety precautions and follow the direction given by the public health director.”

While the Lodging Oversight Committee halted further reservations for July 3 and 4 to prevent surpassing capacity limitations, business owners in town have also noticed the spike of visitors with a mix of gratitude and trepidation.

Elena Levin, owner of the downtown coffee shop Ghost Town, cited mixed reactions from customers regarding following guidelines, with some offering support for safety measures, while others have pushed back over the need to wear a mask.

“I’m grateful for the income, but I’m more concerned about our service industry workers’ health,” Levin said. “I know I can’t afford a full shutdown again after already going through it in March. The stakes are so high.”