With a “Howdy, partner” and a face covering in hand, actors in Old West costumes are helping Durango organizations encourage mask wearing in the city’s downtown.
The Durango Mask Marshal program was developed in response to concerns that out-of-state visitors would not be familiar with local rules and regulations. Not only will the actors amp up the Old West flair of Main Avenue, they will also encourage cautious COVID-19 health practices during the busy spring break tourism season.
“I’m hoping that locals and residents will see that we’re taking this proactive approach and that we care a lot about the health and safety of our community,” said Rachel Brown, Visit Durango executive director. “But we’re trying to approach it in a fun, friendly, Durango-esque way.”
Friday marked the beginning of the spring break season, one of the region’s busiest times for visitation, and the first day of the Mask Marshal program.
Most downtown visitors wear masks, which help prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. But with tourism increasing, Durango organizations wanted to make sure visitors were informed of and compliant with Colorado’s mandatory mask laws, Brown said.
“It seems quite rare that there’s been any kind of incident around someone not wanting to wear a mask, but it has happened,” Brown said. “It’s much better here than other places.”
The state’s executive order requires people in Colorado who are 11 years and older to wear a mask over their noses and mouths in any public indoor space and while using public transportation services, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
Visitors and locals can expect to see “mask marshals” roaming downtown during weekend lunch and dinner hours until April 4. The history-themed characters will be offering free “I (heart) Durango” face masks and old-time toys for kids.
Actors have 1,000 masks available to pass out to visitors, but it seemed unlikely they would use the full amount given how many pedestrians already have masks, Brown said.
If actors run into strong resistance from people about wearing masks, they have the direct line of the Durango Police Department, she said.
The Mask Marshal program was created by Visit Durango, the 5 Star Certification Program and the Durango Business Improvement District, with input from the city.
Program organizers hope the marshals will take some of the burden off front-line employees and restaurant hosts in explaining and enforcing rules for patrons, according to a news release.
“Both the 5 Star Administrative Committee and BID’s board of directors see this as an opportunity to protect locals and help our businesses,” said Tim Walsworth, executive director of BID, in a news release.
At first, the organizations considered using private security to help with mask enforcement. It would be similar to private security used to help reduce shoplifting and theft at places like Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, Brown said.
“I was just being silly and thought, ‘Oh, we could hire an Old West actor, and it would be like a mascot at a theme park,’” Brown said. “The more we thought about it, we really liked the idea.”
In its first weekend, poor weather meant fewer pedestrians were out and about, so actors focused on welcoming visitors, giving them recommendations, taking selfies with them and telling people more about Durango, she said.
“There hasn’t been a lot of enforcement needed, thus far, which is a good sign,” Brown said. “We’d much rather have them out there just being friendly and helpful, and not having issues with the masks.”
The program is funded by the La Plata County 5 Star Certification Program, an extension of the La Plata County Economic Recovery Task Force, BID and Visit Durango.