The crowds at Colorado’s national parks and monuments remain as eager as ever.
Rocky Mountain National Park continued its annual uptick of visitation, with the record 4.67 million visitors counted in 2019 contributing to a 44% bump over seven years.
According to the the latest totals from the National Park Service’s database, Rocky Mountain remains the third most visited national park, behind Great Smoky Mountains (12.54 million) and Grand Canyon (5.97 million).
Elsewhere in the Centennial State, Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve crossed the half-million mark, with last year’s 527,546 visitors up 19% from 2018.
At 556,203 visitors, it was a slight decrease for Mesa Verde — perhaps because more people are opting for another national park on the Western Slope.
The Black Canyon of the Gunnison saw 432,819 visitors in 2019, up a staggering 40% in one year.
“Part of what’s going on is just the discovery,” said Paul Zaenger, a supervisory park ranger at Black Canyon.
More are discovering the canyon’s “certain majesty,” as he put it. “Sometimes staff members call it the Big Wow.”
But do the new waves spell big strains?
“We’re doing our best,” Zaenger said.
That’s all rangers can do as funding from Congress trends the opposite direction of visitation, said John Garder, the senior director of budget and appropriations for the Washington, D.C.,-based National Parks Conservation Association.
Take the Sand Dunes, for example. Garder has tracked an 88% swell in visitation since 2011. Meanwhile, between 2010 and 2019, the park has lost 8% of its staff, he said.
Across all parks, he’s monitored a 17% increase in visitation over the past decade and a 16% reduction in staffing. Deferred maintenance continues to climb; at its 12 managed sites in Colorado, the NPS reported a combined backlog of $247 million in 2018.
“It’s an unsustainable situation that has to be addressed,” Garder said. That’s the intent of the Restore Our Parks Act, which has yet to move from the Senate floor since its introduction a year ago.
Colorado National Monument’s visitation (397,032) slightly increased in 2019 while Florissant Fossil Beds, Colorado Springs’ nearest national monument, slightly dipped to 77,341.
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