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Colorado national parks invite locals to explore

Rob Ryan
Summit Daily News
Summit County, CO Colorado

Colorado has 11 of the United States’ 391 national parks, offering visitors everything from hiking and biking to spectacular landscapes and wildlife. In yet another example of the federal government’s recent generosity, every national park across the country will be waiving its entrance fee on Saturday and Sunday.

“Periodically, it’s good to give people an opportunity to see what they’ve been missing,” said Patrick O’Driscoll, spokesman for the National Parks’ Intermountain Region, which includes Colorado. “The thing that’s great about national parks in Colorado is how much variety there is.”

Saturday and Sunday will be the third “fee-free weekend” of the summer, following similar ventures on June 20-21 and July 18-19. The dates were announced by Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, a native Coloradoan, earlier in the summer. Parks across the state say they’ve seen a significant increase in attendance throughout the summer, and on those weekends in particular.

Kyle Patterson, public information officer for Rocky Mountain National Park, said there was a 32 percent increase in attendance on the free weekend in June compared to last year, as well as a 28 percent increase for the weekend in July. Patterson said the free weekends have worked well as a measure to promote interest in going to the parks.

“The hope is just to try to encourage people to go out and have an adventure in their national parks,” she said.

Patterson said a trip to a park can be a more affordable alternative for recreation in the state.

“Tough economic times call for economic fun, and national parks can provide that,” she said.

Patterson and others from the park service say there’s no shortage of things to do in the parks. A quick trip to the Rocky Mountain National Park website lists a wide range of activities for guests to experience. In addition to the park’s well-known natural beauty, visitors can fish, go climbing or mountaineering and camp within the park grounds. Those of a less active nature can tour the park’s visitor centers or tour the park with a ranger. Other parks around the state have many similar activities.

O’Driscoll said national parks are a better option for those looking to get out into nature because they are set aside for that use exclusively, as opposed to public lands or national forests.

“The national parks don’t have multiple uses going on inside them,” he said.

Joan Anzelmo, superintendent of Colorado National Monument in Grand Junction, said visitors may not realize exactly how much the parks have to offer until they make a trip.

“So many visitors think (the monument) is a marker on the side of the road,” she said. “It’s one of the great surprises for visitors to the Western Slope.”

O’Driscoll said he felt the fee-free weekends are worthwhile and added he hopes they would continue for future seasons.

“Free is always a good thing,” he said. “The main thing I guess is that it gets more people interested in what’s in their backyard.”


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