City of Cripple Creek Striving to Return to Normalcy

Popular Services Receive Green Light to Reopen

Rick Langenberg

Cripple Creek is back and the city is open for business, at least for key amenities.

Early this week, the city’s popular transit service returned with trolley buses cruising up and down Bennett Avenue. And next week, the Cripple Creek Parks and Recreation programs will return, and its main hub will reopen, with a limited schedule.

And in the very near future, the city’s Heritage Center and the jail museum will see renewed action. City officials also hope to reopen the Butte Theater.

But one cautionary note, these services are still highly dependent on the coronavirus epidemic and will operate under stringent social distancing.

“We are trending in the right direction,” said Cripple Creek Interim City Administrator Ray White.  With a decline in cases and the entire region exhibiting a very minimal positivity rate, and the threat of casino closures put on permanent hold, the city is returning to a mini-normal state.

The town’s transit service will now operate daily from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., much in the same way it has in the past.  Only now, riders must wear masks and no fees will be charged. “People still need to be very cautious,” warned the city administrator. “It still is a dynamic situation.”

He said a protective shield has been set up between the drivers and the passengers. Limited seating in the trolley vehicles will occur.

But other than coronavirus protections, no real changes will occur.

The same is true for the town’s parks and recreation services, which have been greatly missed by many residents. The town’s parks and recreation amenities are often regarded as the best in the region. The main parks and recreation center on Bennett Avenue will reopen and services will resume, but with a limited schedule.

“We really want to provide these services to our residents,” said White.

The town’s tourism centers will soon reopen. But city officials haven’t given these as much priority as the transit and park and recreation departments, mainly because they cater more to out-of-town visitors.

But in any case, the reopening of services is a good sign for southern Teller.

The city several months ago suspended operations of many of its agencies, except for critical services, such as police and fire, public works and administration. No employees were laid off, but department activity, at least in  amenities available to the public, stopped.

Still, even with the reopening of these services, the city will still conduct most of its business virtually. All council and planning commission forums, even for public hearings, are conducted, via Zoom.

COVID Numbers Getting Better

During last week’s council meeting, both White and Finance Director Paul Harris gave a fairly positive prognosis of the area’s COVID situation. Harris noted that the region’s 14-day COVID infliction numbers have been going down, and that its positivity rate is trending almost towards that of a Yellow  area.

However, on the bad side, he noted the county has gotten hit with a few more COVID-related deaths, including three more fatalities within an eight-day period. But more healthy care workers and those at risk are taking advantage of the  COVID-19 vaccine, according Harris. As of the middle of last week, he reported that at least 158 people in Teller had been vaccinated.

A tentative meeting has been setup between officials and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment for Jan. 12.

But with Governor Jared Polis recently  placed 33 counties, previously rated as Red (which is almost equivalent to a lockdown) to a Level Orange.  This has taken a little pressure off of Teller officials.  For a several week period, Teller was almost an Orange county on serious probation.

On a statewide level, Colorado has done better. But that scenario could change.

Cripple Creek is still trying to lick some serious financial wounds from the pandemic. Harris reported that the betting device count for the first quarter of 2021 was lingering near the 2,800 mark.  This represents a slight increase from the previous quarter.  But it represents a 22 percent drop from last year at this time, just prior to the COVID-19 epidemic.

Harris and other officials admit this shows that Cripple Creek is still  suffering a bad case of the COVID-blues.

However, the numbers aren’t that surprising, as Cripple Creek casinos aren’t allowed to have table games and the gaming establishments must  operate with limited capacity levels.

Also, the future does appear more promising. Last week, the city council approved the final ordinance for new gaming rules, setting the stage for unlimited single-bet wagers and a hefty lineup of additional games. This is a byproduct of the passage of Amendment 77 locally and at the state level. This pro-gambling proposition is expected to change the dynamics of the three Colorado gaming towns and open the door for more High Roller gamblers and more lodging amenities.