by Tara Walker
Senator Michael Bennet visited Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) on August 8th to learn more about Colorado’s National Parks’ maintenance backlog. Bennet and Gardner are working together to advance bipartisan legislation to reduce the backlog. At RMNP, the backlog is estimated to be $84 million for projects such as road maintenance, visitor center improvements, and employee housing.
Senator Bennet, “For several years, we’ve seen the effects of chronic underfunding of our public land management agencies—and the National Park Service is one of the most glaring examples,” Bennet continued, “National Parks not only contribute to our economy, but are cornerstones of the legacy we’ll leave our children and grandchildren. We must support robust funding for NPS and pass our legislation to address this maintenance backlog across the county.”
In a February letter to Interior Secretary Zinke in February, Cory Gardner also supported the need for funding to address the RMNP maintenance backlog and opposed the fee increase, “There is an urgent need to address the more than $11 billion dollar maintenance backlog on lands managed by the National Park Service, over $220 million of which is here in Colorado. However, we must ensure that any changes we make do not cause a reduction in visitation that could affect the local economies that support the parks. I oppose any immediate fee increases at RMNP and urge you to engage with the stakeholders prior to finalizing any proposal for the fee structure as well as keep the day pass that generates the most revenue for RMNP.”
RMNP fee increase did go into effect in June and an annual pass is now $70, an increase of $10 while a one day automobile pass is $25, an increase of $5. How has this affected visitation? RMNP Public Affairs officer Kyle Patterson shared the June park statistics as July isn’t yet available. Recreational visitors were down 2.8% compared to the same time in 2017. However, visitation was up 33.8% compared to June of 2014. Over recent years, the trend is that visitation is increasing.
Kyle Patterson explained in her recent podcast that RMNP visitor staff safety is important, as is resource protection, visitor experience and operational capacity. Patterson, “What can our infrastructure take whether it is restrooms in Grand Lake or trail systems?” Ultimately Patterson explained that RMNP is trying to balance., and added, “We want to preserve and protect for the future while also providing for the enjoyment of the current visitors.”
The estimated $84 million backlog in projects will continue to be a priority as funding is needed for road maintenance, visitor center improvements and employee housing.