2010 9th Busiest at Rocky Mountain National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park saw a huge jump in visitors in 2010, making the year the ninth busiest in the park's history, The Coloradoan, Fort Collins, Colo., reported.
Officially, 3,128,445 people visited the park last year for a 4.6% increase over 2009, park spokeswoman Kyle Patterson said. The busiest year at the park was 2000, when almost 3.4 million people visited.
The park's big crowds in 2010 turned a year that first looked bleak for some Estes Park business owners into a very lucrative year.
"We saw some growth in a year where some people were worried at the beginning of it," said Dave Watosky, general manager of the Estes Park Mountain Shop. "We were very happy. I saw a tremendous amount of foot traffic. "
Balmy weather during most of December and good snow for skiing and sledding late in the month contributed to a 37% jump in visitation for the month, Patterson said.
"When we have those kinds of increases in our peak season, that's very significant," she said.
But during the off season, she said, big jumps in visitation can be greatly influenced by the weather and do not impact overall annual visitation numbers.
Watosky said there was an unusual number of day trippers visiting from Front Range cities last year, contributing to what might be a record sales year for the Estes Park Mountain Shop.
Park officials have said the National Park Service's fee-free weekends contribute to an influx of local traffic into national parks, something Patterson said she expects to see Saturday, Sunday and Monday with 2011's first fee-free weekend for national parks nationwide.
The park's $20 entrance fee will be dropped for the weekend, she said.
U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced last week that the National Park Service will waive admission fees for 17 days in 2011, including three days during the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend.
Other fee-free dates this year will be National Park Week, April 16-24; the first day of summer, June 21; National Public Lands Day, Sept. 24; and Veterans Day weekend, Nov. 11-13.
Most Americans live within a few hours of one of the National Park Service's 394 parks, monuments, recreation areas and historic sites, and the fee-free days will make it easy for families to visit them, Salazar said.
The Martin Luther King Jr. holiday is a busy weekend for Rocky Mountain National Park anyway, but with expected good weather and snow conditions, the park could be very busy when it drops its entrance fee for the weekend, Patterson said.
"It should be a real good weekend," Watosky said, adding that the 40 inches of snow at Bear Lake are impressive for January and attractive for visitors. "We expect to see a big increase in folks coming up."
As Rocky Mountain National Park saw some of its biggest crowds last year, some of the Rockies' best-known national parks broke all-time visitation records, according to National Park Service data.