Plan on visiting Rocky Mountain National Park? You might need to start making reservations - permanently - before you go.

According to the Denver Post, the next step in a process that could very well result in a permanent reservation system for Rocky Mountain National Park will be taken starting this week, when a 60-day public comment period begins.

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Two informational webinars regarding a plan to manage the impacts of explosive visitation growth at Rocky Mountain National Park will be held on Thursday, May 20 and Tuesday, May 25; both webinars are open to the public.

During both sessions, park officials will explain why they believe visitation must be controlled and what ideas they have in order to accomplish the goal. The public comment period will run from May 21 through July 19, as per the Denver Post.

“We really want to hear from the public about what they value, what they think about the park, the best ways to manage it — start getting the public engaged early in process,” park superintendent Darla Sidles said in an interview. “Once we complete these civic engagement meetings, we’ll write a summary report of what we’ve heard. Then we go back to work, continuing to refine all of the things we talked about during the meetings, based on some of the public comment.”

Park officials say there has been a 44% increase in park visitation since 2012, which has degraded resources, diminished the quality of visitor experiences, increased safety concerns and strained daily operations at RMNP. A reservation system was initially put in place last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic; now, another version of the reservation system will be enforced this year from May 28 to October 11.

“When we’ve got congestion and visitor crowding and long lines of people, or many people at a trailhead, we’ve got very visible resource impacts,” Sidles said, “everything from human waste to increased illegal fires to pretty significant resource degradation, social trailing, lose of vegetation.”

Park officials have pointed out, however, that they have been managing visitation since 2016 at two of the busiest areas in the park - the Bear Lake Visitors Center and Wild Basin - by restricting vehicles pending on traffic congestion. The decision came after park visitation saw a 20% increase back in 2015.

A record number of park visitors - 4,517,585 - was recorded in 2016, but was then surpassed over the next three years, most recently in 2019 with a new visitor record of 4,670,053.

In 2020, because of both the imposition of a reservation system park officials deemed necessary due to the pandemic, as well as park closures due to wildfires, attendance at Rocky Mountain National Park fell to 3,305,199.

This year, the park is imposing a “two-tier” reservations policy; under the policy, access to the Bear Lake Road Corridor will require timed-entry reservations from 5 a.m. to 6 p.m. Those reservations will also permit access to the rest of the park. For areas of the park excluding the Bear Lake corridor, reservations will be required from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Last year’s system made no distinction and required reservations from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m, according to the Denver Post.

“Each time we try something, we’re learning what things seem to work, what things don’t work,” Sidles said. “This year was an opportunity for us to capitalize on those lessons learned and try something again that we may be proposing as one of the alternatives for this long-term strategy.”

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