Grand Lake sales lag despite increase in Rocky Mountain National Park visitation |

Grand Lake sales lag despite increase in Rocky Mountain National Park visitation

Tonya Bina/ Sky-Hi Daily News
Grand County, CO Colorado

By November, hiking, camping and sightseeing numbers to Rocky Mountain National Park were up 2.58 percent compared with last year, according to the Park’s most recent report.

That translated into 1.36 million visitors entering at the east-side station in comparison to 370,000 visitors traveling from the Grand Lake side of the park. As many as 801,000 visitors took the Fall River Road route.

Although the Park won’t have year-end totals until mid-January, Park officials are guessing the park will have reached the 3 million visitor mark by the end of 2009.

The last time the Park reached the 3 million threshold was in 2007, according to Park spokesperson Kyle Patterson.

Although numbers have not been as high as they were in 2001 – when the Park peaked at 3.3 million – Patterson presumes that the Park has maintained its visitation by being a reasonably-priced backyard respite for Colorado’s city dwellers.

In the last two years, park stats have shown that the average length of stays in campgrounds has doubled.

Correspondingly, Wednesday and Thursday visitation has decreased in the park, due to visitors planning trips around long weekends, Patterson said.

The Park arrives at its stats through vehicle counts and formulas applied in accordance with the time of year and the number of people in cars.

But numbers at the Park’s west side may be skewed for the remainder of this year, Patterson said, due to construction work under way to rebuild the west entrance and install a fast lane. The vehicle counter has been malfunctioning during the work, she said.

At the Grand Lake Visitors Center, foot traffic was proportional to Park visitation on the west side, according to Grand Lake Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Brad Taylor.

But an increase in Park traffic has not translated into more dollars spent in Grand Lake, indicating traveler frugality in spite of Visitor Center personnel efforts to lure Park patrons into the downtown.

From January 2008 to August 2008 compared to the same period in 2009, Park visitation on the west-end entrance increased by 5 percent. The visitation statistics do not include Park visitors who accessed the Park on the west side in places other than the main entrance, such as by Sun Valley Road, Sun Valley Trail, Tonahutu Spur, the North Inlet trailhead and the East Inlet trailhead.

But Grand Lake sales tax during that same period from January to August 2008 versus 2009 shows collections down by 12 percent.

Restaurants, bars and lodging fared the worst with a 15 percent drop in sales, whereas retail sales reflected 8 percent down.

– Tonya Bina can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19603 or e-mail