Rocky Mountain National Park sees greater public acceptance for timed-entry reservation policy

In the third year of a “temporary pilot program” imposing a timed entry reservation system at Rocky Mountain National Park, superintendent Darla Sidles says she is hoping a “final plan” can be implemented in 2024.

The system was first imposed in 2020 during the early days of the pandemic to limit crowds and prevent disease transmission, but park officials had been talking for years about the need to find ways to manage an explosive increase in visitation fueled by Front Range population growth.

They made it a two-tier reservation system last year — rules were more restrictive for the extremely popular Bear Lake corridor than they were for the rest of the park — and this year’s system is similar.

“We’ve learned a lot in those three years,” Sidles said in an interview last week. “We’re now looking at, how do we deal with this in the long-term? You can’t continually do pilot (programs).”

The first step on the path to a permanent solution began last year with an initial round of public meetings. This winter they will conduct another.

“At some point you need to engage the National Environmental Policy Act and engage the public more robustly,” Sidles said, “so this winter we will be having another round of public engagement to talk about, ‘After having done these pilots for the last three years, here’s some ideas.’ Then we will embark on the formal NEPA process, beginning the spring of next year. We will put together those alternatives and come up with a draft plan that will again get public input.”

If all goes according to schedule, the “final plan” would be implemented in 2024, Sidles said, adding that park officials have been seeing “greater public acceptance” as people understand the system and the reasons behind it better.

“It’s not so much limiting visitation as it is spreading that use out, across the day,” Sidles said, “so that visitor traffic flows are better, we’ve got the staff to accommodate it better, we don’t have people parking illegally on the sides of roads, we don’t have people five abreast on a single-track trail.”

In the two years prior to the timed entry reservation system, Rocky Mountain National Park was the third-busiest in the National Park System. In 2020, it fell to fourth, and last year it slid to fifth despite increasing from 3.3 million visitors in 2020 to 4.4 million in 2021. The record for park attendance is 4.67 million, set in 2019.

Timed entry reservations for access to all areas of the park including the Bear Lake corridor are required from 5 a.m. to 6 p.m. Timed entry reservations for access to areas excluding the Bear Lake corridor are required from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. The system is in effect between May 27 and Oct. 10.

Yosemite National Park in California also introduced a pandemic-related reservation system in 2020, then kept it in place during peak visitation months last year and this year. It is still described as a “temporary.”

Arches National Park in Utah adopted a timed entry reservation system this year from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m., in effect from April 3 through Oct. 3. That one also is described as a “temporary pilot” program.

Subscribe to our weekly newsletter, The Adventurist, to get outdoors news sent straight to your inbox.

Source: Read Full Article