Near-record crowds in 2021 intensified challenges for Rocky Mountain National Park rangers |

Near-record crowds in 2021 intensified challenges for Rocky Mountain National Park rangers

After the park saw 4.4 million visitors in 2021, rangers brace for more falls, heart attacks and collisions

Bruce Finley
The Denver Post

As more people leave cities seeking outdoor recreation on public land, Rocky Mountain National Park rangers are preparing, months ahead of the peak summer season, for a surge in visitors and associated strains.

Rocky Mountain National Park drew an estimated 4.4 million people in 2021, up by 1.1 million after a COVID-19 slump in 2020, and officials this week were anticipating a continued upward trajectory — in line with a decade-long climb by 50% to a record 4.6 million visitors in 2019.

A timed entry online reservation system similar to those implemented at urban art museums will operate here starting May 27 in an effort to control crowds.

The growing numbers include more people who miscalculate conditions and their abilities hiking in thin air, and park officials also are ramping up search and rescue capabilities. Rangers said they’re preparing, in addition, for more emergency medical calls for help as visitors suffer heart attacks, strokes and altitude sickness. They’re tasked with law enforcement, too — rangers carry guns — responding to vehicle collisions and trying to control speeders.

On top of all that, park rangers and staffers scramble to manage more trash and try to minimize degradation of delicate terrain such as meadow wetlands and high elevation tundra.

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