Rocky Mountain National Park reopens with state funding

ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK, Colo. - Rocky Mountain National Park reopened on Saturday, after the State of Colorado agreed to pay operating costs.

Trail Ridge Road will also reopen as soon as the highway can be plowed to help with ongoing flood recovery efforts in Estes Park and Larimer County, a statement from the governor's office said.

The state will pay for the park to stay open as long as the federal government is shut down, the governor's office said. It will cost $40,300 a day to pay for U.S. National Park Service employees to operate the park.

"This reopening is critical to ongoing recovery efforts after last month’s flooding," Gov. John Hickenlooper said. "Trail Ridge Road provides a vital access point to Estes Park. Plus, the reopening of the park will help businesses in the area that have suffered a one-two punch after the flooding and federal government shutdown."

U.S. Senators Mark Udall and Michael Bennet and Congressional members from Colorado played important roles in helping to reopen the park, the governor said.

"We greatly appreciate all of the hard work by our Congressional delegation and the Department of the Interior to help make this happen." Hickenlooper said.

"The flood impact has been difficult for our residents and businesses and the closure of Rocky Mountain National Park was a huge economic blow just as we were pulling together toward recovery,"  said Estes Park Mayor Bill Pinkham. "We greatly appreciate the efforts of the Governor and our Congressional delegation who helped make this happen. This is pivotal step in Estes Park’s quick and full recovery from this unprecedented disaster."

On Saturday, Rocky Mountain National Park tweeted "Trailheads open on the east: Bear Lake Rd Trailheads, Lumpy Ridge, Lily Lake, Wild Basin! West side trails open too!"    It also tweeted the partial opening of Trail Ridge Road: "Trail Ridge Rd is open to Many Parks Curve on the east and the Colorado River Trailhead on the west.Deep snow & ice!"

Lisa Dilling and her family will soon be able to cross the barricades at the park.

"I'm so excited," said Lisa Dilling, a visitor from Boulder.  "We want to see the elk, just tour around, see the colors," she said.

"I got the news the park's opening, and I just got so excited I almost cried,” said Linda Bensey, an Estes Park resident.

The park's closure was a double punch to the region.   The flood waters destroyed the main roads leading into Estes Park .  The shutdown added to the slowdown facing local business, including a  candy shop.

"It's hard looking at previous years, and knowing, you know, what you planned on, just isn't happening," said Serena Rappel of Munchin’ House Candy.

The move to re-open the park came after political pressure, in part from the mayor to the governor and members of Congress.

"We had to do something.  That would be unconscionable on our part," said Mayor Pinkham.

The state will initially use money from the Colorado Tourism Office to operate the park and will seek reimbursement from the federal government. Park entrance fees will still be charged and collected and the park will be on normal operating hours until Oct. 20.