Estes Park business owners worried about possible Rocky Mountain National Park fee hike

ESTES PARK, Colo. -- Thousands of Coloradans departed the city for higher elevations on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Some journeyed to Rocky Mountain National Park to take advantage of one of the park's four free admittance days in 2018.

That's down from 10 free days in 2017, and many people in nearby Estes Park fear affordable visits to Rocky Mountain National Park soon might be a thing of the past.

The National Park Service is pursuing a proposal to more than double entrance fees from $30 to $70.

"That's just a lot of money. We wouldn't be here if we had to pay that," said Elisa Lapolla, a woman visiting from Tampa, Florida.

Fee hike fears are the talk of Estes Park. Many businesses in the town have permits to operate in the park, and many fear many will choose to vacation elsewhere if entrance fees are raised to $70 a day.

"We're very concerned because if these fee hikes do go through when they say they may, it's going to be very difficult to continue some of our programs in the park," said Harry Kent, owner of Kent Mountain Adventure Center.

Commercial tour entrance fees are also set to rise. Kent said fee increases for his companies and others are too much to pass along to clients.

"For example, if we want to put four people in one of our vans to go snowshoeing, that's probably going to increase over $150 or so just to go into the park for one day, whether that's one person or four," he said.

The National Park Service said the increase will help pay for badly needed improvements, including upgrades to roads, bridges, campgrounds and restroom facilities in the parks.

The fee hike could also boost national park revenue by $70 million per year.

However, Kent and others in Estes Park believe alternatives to drastic fee hikes need to be considered first.

"You've heard it said we're loving our parks to death. Well, we're loving the parks, but we're not loving them to death yet. I don't want to see this park become a place where only rich people can afford it. That would be the worst thing that could happen," Kent said.

If approved, the fee hikes would take effect in May or June.

There are three remaining free days this year: April 21, Sept. 22 and Nov. 11.