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National Public Lands Day brings crowds to Rocky Mountain National Park

Our Colorado: Free day with conservation effort
Posted: 3:03 PM, Sep 22, 2018
Updated: 2018-09-22 19:26:47-04

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ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK -- In our growing Colorado, we've gotten used to sharing nature with bigger crowds. Saturday is expected to be one of the busiest all year for Rocky Mountain National Park as people flock to catch the first fall colors and the elk rut.

It's also National Public Lands Day , which means entry fees are waived at all national parks across the U.S. The day was created in 1993 to promote conservation efforts. Hundreds of volunteer projects are happening at parks around the country.

Rocky Mountain Conservancy recruited 40 volunteers to pick up litter at the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park. Volunteers say it's a way to give back.

"We’re always hiking and camping in the park," said Jesse Brew, who brought his three daughters to volunteer. "It’s important to give back to something that gives so much to us."

"I think it’s really important for those that enjoy our public lands to recognize that there is a lot of work that goes into protecting them and maintaining them so they can be enjoyed," said Geoff Elliot, director of conservation for Rocky Mountain Conservancy.

The National Park Service is facing an $11 billion dollar backlog in deferred park maintenance. In June, fees increased at 117 National Parks , including Rocky Mountain National Park and Dinosaur National Monument.

Some park visitors think free days send the wrong message.

"They’re talking about how beat up our national parks are getting and they want to try to maintain them, and yet they just let everybody in on that one day," said Christopher Barnard.

Not all agree, but say people need to practice "leave no trace" principles, and respect nature.

"A fee can be a barrier to some people, so if having a fee free day encourages those people and more to come up, I think it’s great," said Elliot. "I think with that opportunity to enjoy the park there just comes the responsibility of respecting the place as well."

In 2017, Rocky Mountain National Park was the fourth most visited in the country with 4.4 million visitors. Colorado is also home to Great Sand Dunes National Park, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and Mesa Verde National Park. The next free entrance day is November 11.