Rocky Mountain National Park will be reinstating its reservation system for a third summer as park officials begin to plan for managing the growing crowds for years to come.
Representatives from Rocky spoke to Estes Park City Council on Tuesday, highlighting the success of this year’s timed entry system. Visitor usage management specialist John Hannon said the reservation system for 2022 will be quite similar to that for 2021 with minor adjustments including a slight increase in available reservations.
With 3.3 million visitors in 2020, Rocky was one of the busiest parks in the national park system despite being closed due to COVID-19, the East Troublesome Fire and the implementation of a programmed entry system.
Of the 62 designated ânational parkâ locations across the country, only the Great Smoky Mountains, Yellowstone and Zion have seen more visitors than Rocky last year. Rocky has seen more people than even Grand Teton and Grand Canyon National Parks.
Rocky was the first national park in the country to implement programmed park-wide entry permits, although Yosemite National Park added day-use reservations last year that continued this year. year. A number of other national parks implement reservation systems for popular park features or close access once a certain number of visitors have been reached.
Hannon described the visitor management strategies Rocky has used in recent years in high traffic areas such as Bear Lake Road, Wild Basin Area, and the Alpine Visitor Center.
âThese management strategies, they’re not necessarily that new to the park,â he said.
He explained that the first come, first served method for these areas has had limited success and generally takes a long time for staff to implement successfully. Rocky introduced a pilot park-wide timed entry system for the first time in 2020, requiring reservations from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. from late May to mid-October.
This summer the park changed the reservation system with the lessons of 2020. There were two types of reservations this year, one that controlled access to Bear Lake Road from 5 a.m. to 6 p.m. and another which capped access to the rest of park 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Hannon said the park has found this system to work much better.
âIt spread this use well throughout the day,â Hannon said. âThis allows us to protect the park resources that we have, but also helps us make better use of the park’s infrastructure. “
Reservations were released on a sliding monthly basis, but the park also offered a number of “night before” passes. In June, park officials noted that about 30% of daily bookings were no-shows. The number of reservations available in July the day before entry has been increased with this in mind to better reach the park’s target level: 85% capacity.
âThis 30% no-show rate has remained constant throughout the summer,â Hannon said. âI thought we would see fluctuations in different months, but that’s not the case. It was very consistent. “
The park found that the visit levels worked well with the shorter booking window, although there were constant spikes in visits just before 9 a.m. and just after 3 p.m. Hannon said the window helps circulation inside and outside the park, while allowing more spontaneity of visits.
âThis shorter window really allowed people who did not have a reservation, who were not familiar with the reservation system, the ability to come back after this reservation period,â said Hannon.
Next summer, Rocky plans to target 90% of the park’s parking and transit capacity. This equates to approximately 7,200 vehicles or 20,000 visitors per day.
âWe’re pretty confident that 90% is going to be kind of that sweet spot for us,â Hannon said.
He said there could be minor adjustments to windows and reservation numbers, but the system would look a lot like last summer. Additionally, the park will add the ability to purchase entry passes along with reservations on Recreation.gov, which should help speed up the entry process.
Reservations will be required from May 27 to October 10 of next year. They will continue to be published on a rolling monthly basis, meaning that June bookings will become available on May 2, July bookings will become available on June 1 and so on.
As the park prepares to roll out a third summer of reservations, Rocky is also embarking on longer-term visitor planning efforts to find a more permanent solution to crowd management.
Hannon said the park is currently in the pre-National Environmental Policy Act phase, collecting data, civic engagement and public comment on these strategies. A report will be released in January on this work, with officials planning to complete the visitor use management framework this spring.
Next year, he said the park will publish another survey and complete a socio-economic study to assess the economic impacts of a management strategy for the entrance communities and surrounding areas.
Hannon predicted that the formal NEPA process would take place in the winter of 2022-2023. Then the park will take another round of public comments in the spring of 2023. The hope is to have a final decision document by the end of 2023.
Additionally, the park announced earlier this month that some fees would increase. Specifically, some campsites would see fee increases as well as day passes. The only national park with daily passes, entrance fees will drop from $ 25 to $ 30 per day. Weekly and annual entrance fees will not be affected.
âThese fees really help us maintain and improve our visitor services,â said Park Superintendent Darla Sidles.
The park is accepting public comments on proposed fee increases until January 7, which can be submitted to https://parkplanning.nps.gov/RMNP_FEES_2022.
The Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act allows the park to collect entrance and amenity fees, and parks like Rocky Mountain National Park can keep 80% of fees collected in the park for projects that directly enhance the experience. . The remaining 20% ââis distributed throughout the network of national parks.