At a special Town Board meeting on Monday, March 29, Rocky Mountain National Park Supt. Darla Sidles updated Mayor Wendy Koenig and the Town Trustees of their park visitor management strategy for 2021. She was joined by Kyle Patterson, Public Affairs Officer and Park Management Specialist, John Hannon.
Darla reported that RMNP is the third busiest park in the NPS and 2019 showed record visitation, with 4.6 million visitors, a 44% increase since 2012 with July being the most visited month.
She told the mayor and board of their long range planning efforts and told them that they will once again begin a day use visitor access strategy plan implemented from the data and knowledge gained in 2020.
Looking back at information learned from 2020 gives park officials a way to make informed decisions on what worked and what didn’t work with the reservations and guest visitation experiences.
After being in the midst of Covid and having to follow CDC, state and local guidelines they learned that the big crunch of visitors came to the park between 10-3 everyday, and that park personnel needed to learn how to space people out, manage crowding and congestion and better spread visitor use throughout the day. They learned Bear Lake is popular, really popular, and that the rest of park was quite under utilized. They know that Covid-19 guidelines will be continuing for 2021, and still follow the federal mask mandate, reduce shuttle bus capacity and trail access due to fire impacts along with continued reduced seasonal staff due to Covid-19 and shared housing.
Two types of reservations will be available:
Reservations for the Bear Lake Road Corridor Access (Trail Ridge Road junction up, includes access to rest of the park as well) with a reservation period from 5 a.m.-6 p.m.
Reservation for access to “rest of the park” all areas excluding the Bear Lake Road Corridor) with a reservation period from 9 a.m.-3 p.m.
Reservations will be required beginning Friday, May 28-October 11.
Benefits of the two type of reservations
Two types of reservations, allow for a greater number of reservations per day. Reservations will be based on 75%-85% of park’s total capacity which spreads use throughout the park to better utilize all parking/trailhead areas. Shorter “rest of the park” reservation period allows for greater flexibility of locals, cross-park travel and for those without reservations.
Trustee Webermeier commended RMNP for their extraordinary efforts trying to manage this Herculean effort, because our park is being loved to death. He said, “This has been an ongoing issue for years and years and key to making this work is to push this point of view out to the public. This plan is well considered, well thought out process.”
Mayor Wendy Koenig wanted to stress that the Town and RMNP are two separate entities, working as a team but the park is in control of their pilot reservation system.
Supt. Sidles said, “RMNP is a U.S. Federal Govt. entity, who must report to the Dept. of the Interior, which has approved this plan. They will focus on the best interests of all involved and work with town and county, on making this work as smoothly as possible. She said, “We are partners and the reason for this meeting is to share our plans and proposals. We have a great relationship with Estes Park and Grand Lake and all three counties within RMNP.”
Kyle Patterson added, “We will welcome pubic comment and feedback on this 2021 plan. We rely on our partnership with the town and other entities to help us get the word out about this reservation system to best communicate to our guests and visitors on how to purchase tickets and how this system will work. We will be listening to public input, and always be very open and as transparent as possible, people may give their public input on this new reservation system via emails.
These new reservations will be on the NPS website beginning May 1 at www.recreation.gov/ticket/facility/300013 with reservations open for May 28, Memorial Day weekend through the month of June.