ESTES PARK, Colo. (KDVR) — A petition pushing to suspend plans for a permanent reservation system at Rocky Mountain National Park is gaining traction worldwide.
FOX31 spoke with the petition creators to learn their mission as the park opens a public comment period for the community to weigh in.
RMNP implemented a first-of-its-kind reservation system in 2020 due to COVID concerns. The park is now bringing back timed entry permits for the summer and fall with reservations that are meant to keep park visitation around 75 to 85% of full capacity to avoid overcrowding and degrading natural resources. There’s also a proposal for a permanent visitor access pass strategy.
RMNP officials report it was the fourth-most-visited park in 2020 and has seen a 44% increase in visitation over the past 10 years.
In Estes Park, between the mountains, greenery, and wildlife, Daniel Denning and his family planted roots, making RMNP a staple of their childhood adventures.
“Our family has been coming up here since the 1920s, it was our backyard growing up and we had so much fun being able to get in the park without a reservation,” Denning said.
“We want what’s best to preserve the park’s resources, but we think public access to public lands is one of the dual missions of the park and that’s going to be impacted permanently if the National Park Service goes ahead with this,” Denning said.
Denning wants the public to have more say and understanding in the decision-making process and wants to know how much the park has considered other options that wouldn’t limit access. He made this petition with his plea in April.
Jennifer Davis is a longtime Estes Park resident who supports and signed the petition.
“Maybe they see a problem that I don’t. I’m up there all the time. I know it’s busy, but where I go is beautiful–nothing is ruined that I can see to any extent,” Davis said.
“I’m open to being persuaded, if they can show us that 5 million people a year will damage the park and destroy habitats and be bad for wildlife, then nobody wants that to happen. But we haven’t seen any evidence that that is the case,” Denning said. “So, I would like them to slow the process down and open it up for the public so we can see what they are seeing.”
National Park Service posted a presentation with pictures showing issues they are seeing. This presentation is being included in two public Zoom calls, the second on May 25.
The webpage states there will be additional opportunities to comment formally on the project during the future NEPA process. Public comments for this stage are invited for 60 days beginning May 21 through July 19.
An RMNP spokesperson sent FOX31 this response to the petition:
We have heard of the petition. We are hoping that the public will take the time to become informed about the totality of the situation. We have implemented short term reactive management solutions in response to the significant increase in visitation and impacts as well as embarking on our long-range visitor use planning to ensure that the park’s resources are protected simultaneous with public access.
Park staff are implementing a new pilot temporary timed entry permit reservation this year because we are managing for significant increases in visitation to public lands in Colorado again this year, including Rocky Mountain National Park. Some people are referring to it as the COVID Bump or COVID Crush.
We are managing for this increased use along with continued COVID-19 concerns, ongoing park seasonal staff shared housing challenges, reduced shuttle bus capacity and residual fire impacts in some areas of the park from historic fires in 2020.
Reservations are required for all areas of RMNP May 28 through October 11.
This year’s pilot reservation system allows for a greater number of reservations per day. Reservations will be based on approximately 75 to 85% of the park’s total parking capacity. Last year’s system was based on approximately 60% of the park’s total parking capacity. This system spreads use throughout the park to better utilize all parking/trailhead areas.
We have seen a 44% increase in visitation since 2012. In 2019, Rocky was the third most visited national park in the country with almost 4.6 million visitors. Since 2016, we have been actively managing access in areas of the park like Bear Lake Road, Wild Basin and Alpine Visitor Center when crowding and congestion warranted due to impacts on visitor and staff safety, resource protection, operational capacity and visitor experience. In 2019, those restrictions occurred every day in July, most days in August and late June and all weekends from June through early October.
Further information on the timed entry permit reservation system can be found here.