Rocky Mountain National Park opens, but admission doesn't cover operating costs

DENVER - Rocky Mountain National Park reopened on Saturday thanks to state funds. However, while the tourist attraction brought in visitors, admission fees did not cover the cost of running the park.

Last week, government officials announced that states could use their own money to pay for park operations. Arizona, Colorado, New York, South Dakota and Utah were among those that agreed to fund the parks, according to ABC News.

On Friday, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper announced that the state would pay over $40,000 per day to cover operating costs associated with reopening the park. The state agreed to pay for the park to remain open for 10 days to help Estes Park businesses, which are suffering after being hit by the floods and the government shutdown.

On Saturday, park officials said 1,843 vehicles used one of three pay entrances at the park. On Sunday, 2,031 vehicles used the pay entrances. The weekend total was 3,874 vehicles.

At the regular $20 fee per vehicle, park admission would have raised $77,480. However, Rocky Mountain National Park officials said park passes were being accepted, so not every vehicle entering the park had to pay an admission fee.

While the state of Colorado is paying government employees to run the park, the state is not receiving the admission fees. Under the current deal, those fees are going to the federal government. The governor's office said it hopes the federal government will reimburse the state, but an agreement has not been reached.

"This count does not include those park visitors who may have recreated in the park in other popular locations such as Lumpy Ridge Trailhead, Lily Lake, Longs Peak, Wild Basin, East Inlet Trailhead, etc.," park officials said. No fee is charged at those locations.

Park officials do not yet know if admission was higher or lower than last year. However, they do expect the visitation numbers to be lower than last year due to the closure of Highways 34 and 36.

"Without the state of Colorado's support to fund the reopening of Rocky Mountain National Park along with park staff operating the park... the number of visitors at the three main entrances would have been .... zero," park officials said in a news release.

7NEWS was in Estes Park on Saturday. Reporter Lindsey Sablan said she saw a steady stream of visitors on the sidewalks of downtown Estes Park. While the tourists were a welcome sight, shop owners told 7NEWS the number of people visiting was down.

"It’s probably not going to make up for the last two weeks," Mayor Bill Pinkman said. "But it will help people to stay in business."

Pinkman reiterated even a slight improvement in business is helpful for the town's morale.

"Driving into town, seeing people coming into town, just makes you feel so good," he said.

Julie Scarbrough, the manager of "Wear Me Out Tees," said traffic was less than a typical fall day but it was "a great showing for what we've been through."

"It won’t fix it but it’s a start," she said. "And if we can continue that (for) 10 days it would be great because fall is huge for us here. We need that park open."

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