Opinion: Modest entrance fee increase at Rocky Mountain National Park will help address park needs, improve visitor experience
Rocky Mountain National Park is incredibly special to millions of people because of its beautiful mountains, scenic vistas, spectacular wildlife, many miles of hiking trails, rich cultural history, and friendly neighboring communities. These features helped attract those of us who are area residents, as well as visitors from all over the world. Who can blame anyone for wanting to see this priceless national gem?
Last year, more than 4.4 million visitors came to Rocky. The park has been experiencing record-breaking visitation for the last four years, and we are currently the fourth highest-visited national park in the country. This increased visitation stresses park capacity and staffing, our precious natural and cultural resources, and the visitor experience itself.
The combination of increased visitation and aging infrastructure is impacting park roads, buildings, trails, campgrounds, water systems, bathroom, and other facilities, resulting in deferred maintenance here at the park of $84 million dollars. Nationwide, the deferred maintenance backlog is $11.6 billion.
Last October, the National Park Service (NPS) proposed a plan to adopt seasonal entrance fee pricing at Rocky Mountain National Park and 16 other national parks to raise additional revenue for maintenance needs. The NPS received over 100,000 comments on that proposal. Based on that public input, the National Park Service developed a balanced plan that focuses on modest increases at all 117 parks that charge entrance fees, as opposed to the larger increases proposed for 17 highly-visited national parks.
Effective June 1, Rocky’s Day Pass will increase from $20 to $25, a seven-day entrance pass to the park will increase from $30 to $35 per vehicle and from $15 to $20 per motorcycle. An annual park pass will cost $70.
At Rocky Mountain National Park, 80 percent of entrance fees stay right here in the park and are devoted to projects that benefit the visitor and improve the park, such as operating the park’s visitor shuttle bus system, providing food storage lockers at campgrounds, and restoring willow and aspen habitat. The other 20 percent of entrance fee income is distributed to other national parks for their visitor needs. The additional revenue will also help us address the park’s deferred maintenance backlog on projects such as rehabilitating numerous trails like the Onahu Trail and Cub Lake Trail, renovating restroom facilities, replacing a failing septic system at Timber Creek Campground, and mitigating beetle-killed hazard trees in or near park facilities such as picnic areas and trailheads.
We appreciate all park stakeholders who engaged and commented on the proposed fee increase including elected officials, community leaders, park visitors and our neighbors. People have loved and supported this park for over 100 years. We are committed to keeping Rocky Mountain National Park affordable and providing visitors with the best possible experience. This fee increase is still an incredible value when considering other family and recreational experiences.
Darla Sidles is the superintendent of Rocky Mountain National Park.
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