National Park Service considers visit limits as attendance shatters records

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ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK, Colo. — One of Colorado’s most loved natural wonders might be getting a little too much love.

Rocky Mountain National Park shattered its all-time attendance record last year as 4.1 million people visited the park. That’s a 21 percent increase from the 3.4 million people who visited in 2014, when the park also broke an attendance record.

The surge in visitors is creating new challenges for the park. Trails are quickly eroding and bathroom facilities are struggling to keep up with the demand. Parking can also be almost impossible to find in some of the more popular areas of the park.

“We’ve been here when we haven’t been able to find a parking spot at all,” said Rick Mayhew of Loveland.

“It was insane,” said Julie Pease, who was visiting the park over Memorial Day weekend. “Just trying to get to the entrance of the park was probably 45 minutes from Estes Park.”

During its busiest days in 2015, Rocky Mountain National Park saw more than 13,000 cars pass through its entrance gate.

That’s why the National Park Service is studying potential solutions to mitigate the impact, everything from more shuttles and added parking lots, to limiting traffic on some of the park’s more popular roads.

“We had to do that last summer on occasion, where we had so much congestion on Fall River Road dumping into Alpine Visitor Center that we had to temporarily restrict visitor access on the road until the congestion cleared out,” said Kyle Patterson, a spokesman with Rocky Mountain National Park.

The park service is considering even more drastic measures in other national parks, including daily caps on visitors and even requiring reservations to enter the parks.

“They shouldn’t limit the daily use. I think it will take care of itself,” Mayhew said.

Crowds could be even larger this summer. Visits this year are already up 11 percent from last year. The park service advises arriving before 10 a.m. or after 3 p.m.

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