Why it costs $36K per day to open Rocky Mountain National Park

ESTES PARK, Colo. - It's a question many people are asking -- why does it cost more than $36,000 per day to run Rocky Mountain National Park?

When Interior Secretary Sally Jewell offered to let states pay for park operations to reopen national parks, several states agreed, including Colorado.

However, it wasn't a cheap decision.

Under terms announced by federal officials, Colorado governor John Hickenlooper agreed to donate $362,700 in state cash to bring furloughed National Park Service employees back to work for 10 days, according to the Denver Post. The money came from the Colorado Tourism Office, in hopes it would help Estes Park rebound from losses during the floods last month.

7NEWS asked park officials about the cost.

Park officials said the money is paying for staffing and operations such as utilities, fuel, water plant operations and trash pickup.

The money does not pay for housing.

"Definitely not housing costs," said park spokeswoman Kyle Patterson. "Most of us live outside the park and those that live inside the park pay rent."

Patterson said the state's money is paying for a variety of personnel including rangers who work in law enforcement, search and rescue, emergency medical services, visitor centers and at the entrance gates.

The money is also paying for maintenance staff, including custodians, snowplow drivers and heavy equipment operators.

"Water system operators - we have water plants in the park," Patterson said.

The park also has biologists and other staff who research and protect the park's resources, and there is an administrative staff that works in the office.

The money from the state is also paying for utilities and fuel.

7NEWS did some math.

Let's say 15 percent of the cost is going to fuel, utilities and the water system. That leaves $30,829.50.

If the average employee makes $15 an hour. That would be $120 a day. The government has to pay social security taxes, medicare taxes, retirement, disability insurance, unemployment insurance, health benefits, uniforms, etc... So figure another 35 percent of their salary for benefits, that's a cost of $162 per employee, per day.

$30,829.50 per day would pay for about 190 employees.

Park officials could not confirm how many employees are currently working at the park.

"Our human resources function is still under the shutdown, so I won't be able to give you numbers until they are back up and operational," Patterson said.

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.

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