It’s difficult to process losing something that disappears before it begins. Yet that’s what has been happening to Telluride’s signature summer events: One by one, they are slipping away.
The Ride, stalled until 2021.
The town’s boisterous, exuberant Fourth of July celebration, postponed until next summer.
And those are just the early biggies. There’s no word yet on whether the Telluride Jazz Festival and Blues & Brews are still a go, much less the Telluride Film Festival, but if they do occur, they will surely be in a different format from before — one that takes into account a worldwide pandemic.
Telluride offers a festival every week in the warm months, yet many summer events have been tabled during this high season, casualties of social-distancing and small-gathering requirements brought on by the novel coronavirus.
It is the same predicament facing all of Colorado’s mountain towns: How to reimagine this, the busiest season?
After nine weeks of quarantine, the State of Colorado has loosened its stay-at-home health restrictions, replacing them with new, safer-at-home guidelines, and San Miguel County public health officials intend to try to follow suit. Earlier this week, officials held what county manager Mike Bordogna called “one of the most important meetings of our entire summer,” an announcement of gradually loosened restrictions that will be phased in, beginning tomorrow (Friday).
The plan will start by allowing businesses such as landscaping and construction to bring in workers to San Miguel County from all over the Western Slope.
“Decisions regarding summer camps, restaurant dining and any changes to group sizes” — which for now are limited to 10 individuals or fewer — “will largely depend on the state’s orders, which are in place until May 27,” a county news release about Tuesday’s meeting stated. “We anticipate that Governor Polis will address these items and possibly others when he amends the state’s orders,” county public health director Grace Franklin elaborated. “We will likely follow his lead when we look at our new orders for June.”
Because, yes, new orders. “Essentially, we’re looking to open a little bit more every two weeks” throughout the summer, Bordogna said. The county’s challenge is to keep residents and visitors safe from a highly contagious virus that has killed more than 80,000 Americans so far as it reopens during one of the busiest times of the year.
“Commissioners have said that they’re not OK with (accepting) a certain number of deaths” in exchange for getting the economy revved up, Bordogna observed. “Yet at the same time, our economy is also tied to folks’ mental health and sense of purpose.”
Health officials have four metrics “that we watch every day,” Bordogna said, including, for starters, whether there are enough medical supplies for rapid COVID-19 testing at Telluride Regional Medical Center and Uncompaghre Medical Center and “hospital capacity, both regionally and locally.”
Officials also assess “the trends of COVID-19 cases,” Bordogna said, “and how rapidly the increase in the (upward) curve is.”
The county’s self-quarantining measures were effective “and our curve has been really flat so far,” he explained. Officials expect the number of cases to increase once businesses reopen, “But we want a linear rise, and not an exponential one.”
The fourth metric “is the tricky part,” Bordogna said. “It involves tracing capacity. We know there’s a latency of 5-14 days before people show symptoms of COVID-19, and some people are at their most contagious” during this time.
“Suppose they’re in Telluride, having fun, totally happy, and then they go home and get sick. How would we know? Will the hospital report it to us?”
And even if the hospital did, would there be enough information to allow contact tracers, whose work involves following the pathogen, to effectively do their jobs?
“We have the people who can do the tracing, in multiple languages,” Bordogna said. “But when people are on vacation, who keeps track of where they went and what they did? ‘I went to this restaurant, then I rode on the gondola, then I went for a ride on my bike … ” he ticked off the possibilities that could challenge any vacationer’s memory (not to mention a tracer’s capacity to track them). Yet effective contact tracing saves lives.
There is also the matter of what to do if the number of positive cases spikes: Having ratcheted up the number of visitors, how do you bid everybody goodbye?
“We have practice” at closing things down, Bordogna said. “It might not have been perfect, but it worked pretty well when we had to shut down the ski area, and we gave folks a few days to go home. If things become dire, we have the ability to get that message across very quickly. Yet it would also mean we’d have to go through this arduous process of reopening again.”
“We’re going to be living in two-week increments this summer,” summed up Michael Martelon, the Telluride Tourism Board’s president and CEO. When it comes to enjoying yourself, Martelon shared some advice: “You need to be present right now, wherever you are. Because the only forward-thinking” any of us is going to be able to do “is 14 days ahead.”
Stop concentrating on the lack of big concerts and festivals that are highly unlikely to take place this year, in other words, and focus on the now.
“I can’t envision a festival or a group gathering for more than 50-100 people, where folks are encouraged to join hands — I can’t imagine that it would happen — until there’s a vaccine,” Bordogna said simply. “People come here on vacation and they drink and they party, and they’re not thinking about preventing aerosolized droplets.”
“I think summer is going to be very different, but just as magical,” Martelon said. “Second homeowners will be a very big thing this year. They’re a treasure for our community, to have the people that we do and everything they do for the community, and we’ll be getting a little closer with them. That’s a good thing. I feel we’ll become more of a community than we’ve ever been.”
Already, there is intimacy: Events have gone online, scaled down and available from your sofa, served with whatever attire you choose to don, and (needless to say) the food and beverage of your choice. There are some good things about that: There’s no need to worry that a seminar or show will be sold out. Telluride Mountainfilm, for example, has gone virtual — which pretty much guarantees everyone a seat not only to screen films but hear luminaries in the worlds of alpinism and environmentalism hold forth without scrambling to squeeze into a crowded room or not gaining admittance at all because the event sold out. What’s more, it is affordable — just $75 buys you admittance to more than 100 new films and trenchant discussions — and more accessible: The fest is on for 10 days this year, from May 15-25, instead of over Memorial Day weekend (visit mountainfilm.org to learn more).
The same holds true for the fifth annual Bow Wow Film Festival, short films on all things dog that benefit the Second Chance Humane Society, whose run-time was recently extended from one week to two (learn more at adoptmountainpets.org).
And while some familiar events may have gone online, other, beloved venues are open once again, so you can patronize them in person. Between the Covers Bookstore, for instance, reopened earlier this week. On Tuesday, co-owner Daiva Chesonis was marking off social-distancing spaces with yellow masking tape. “We’ll be supplying books for Mountainfilm’s five Meet the Authors programs,” Chesonis said. “We’ll put together a book bundle and on May 26, we’ll start shipping.”
The bookstore typically offers author’s readings and other events that dovetail with festivals. “This is our first major experiment with festival number one,” Chesonis said. “If it doesn’t work, we’ll change it up for whatever comes next.”
The bookstore has other, non-fest-aligned events coming up in the next two weeks: Bookstock 2020, from May 15-17, an indie-bookstore event that benefits both local bookstores and musicians — Telluride’s own Birds of Play — and Authors Unmasked, a previously-= scheduled event in collaboration with the Wilkinson Public Library, Sheep Mountain Alliance, Telluride Mountain Club and Torrey House Press, which was to be held at the library but now will take place May 18 on Zoom. Visit telluridelibrary.org to register and to receive a link.
Between the Cover’s reopening pleases Chesonis.
“Guns and liquor were considered ‘essential,’ but bookstores weren’t?” she cracked.
The pandemic’s presence has inspired “a lot of cool collaborations for summer,” she added. “Let’s say Main Street goes pedestrian. We bring in an author for a reading, or a book-club dinner, that takes place outside. Our muscle for adaptation,” for reconfiguring and reinventing events, “has been never been stretched” the way it has recently, she added.
The good news: “We’re finding that it’s bigger, stronger, longer than we ever thought.”
Judy Kohin, the director of the Ah Haa School, concurred. “Like everyone else, we’re pivoting, trying to figure out what we can do,” she said. So far, the art school has been offering online classes in cooking, arts and writing, as well as “makers” videos. Going forward, “we’re hopeful we’ll be able to offer small, in-person classes, as well as online classes for visiting artists who want to teach but can’t come here,” Kohin said. It has been a challenging time, figuring out what you might be allowed to offer, given that the health requirements of the county and the state have not always aligned, which is why San Miguel County hopes to mirror the State of Colorado’s directives going forward.
“We had to cancel all of our kids’ programs and we’re going to completely redo them,” Kohin said. “Our adult schedule will be out the first week of June. We’re trying to get this together as quickly as we can. We waited until the last possible moment” (wondering and hoping if health guidance would change) “until we realized, we can’t let this happen: Usually, we have 40-50 kids in our building and we thought, we can’t do that. First and foremost, we have to keep people safe. Can we do that in courses where we’re sharing materials?”
Kohin ran through the possibilities: “We can add programs outside, on our deck; or offer plein-air painting. I’m feeling optimistic. It won’t be as busy as normal. We have to be excited; we have no choice.”
Ah Haa’s signature summertime event, its live and silent auction, typically held under a big tent, will be online this year on July 17. (Mishky will be the presenter.) The theme: Art Heals.
It’s a message that will be echoed in a summer installation to help instill peace in a time of uncertainty. Telluride Arts has many plans for the upcoming season, including opening its signature Transfer Warehouse for socially distanced seating, al fresco take-out dining and, as executive director Kate Jones put it, “just a beautiful place to be, while observing current safety protocols.”
The nonprofit is also working on installing Adirondack chairs — the quintessential summertime lounging accessory — “in sets of two or four, distanced, in public spaces,” Jones said: “Along the river, in the parks, offering places for people to be together, to commune and rest.”
Jones hopes local artists will paint and otherwise adorn the chairs. The plan is to provide welcoming, egalitarian places for people to sit comfortably in a beautiful spot in nature, “knowing that not everyone has a yard or even a deck of their own,” places in which residents and visitors alike “can simply pause and exist in the new normal-for-now.” In short, these are spaces tailor-made for a pandemic, “when we need to be together and apart at the same time, but not separate.”
Where for this singular season, throbbing reverberations from Town Park will be replaced by intimate gatherings and easy conversation — experiences different from the typically buzzy, summer-on-steroids you usually find in Telluride, in a setting no less magical.