State park fees set to drop amid effort to create more parks, access in Colorado

Recently signed bill will dramatically reduce the price of admission to public lands for Colorado vehicle owners

Gov. Jared Polis signs Senate Bill 21-249, titled “Keep Colorado Wild Annual Pass,” from Golden Gate Canyon State Park on June 21, 2021.
Special to the Daily

EAGLE — Gov. Jared Polis says of all the efforts undertaken by his administration in recent years, he’s most excited about some of the public lands initiatives underway.

Chief among them is a new, less expensive state park pass called the Keep Colorado Wild pass, which will dramatically reduce the price of admission to parks across the state.

The new state park pass, already being shorthanded at the capitol as the “wild pass” will, instead of purchasing a state park pass online or at the park gates, allow Colorado residents the option of purchasing the heavily discounted wild pass while purchasing a motor vehicle registration.

The wild pass was created through Senate Bill 21-249, which Polis signed into law from Golden Gate Canyon State Park on June 21.

Six days later, Polis visited Eagle, signing more bills and touting others. In an interview with the Vail Daily, the governor said he was especially excited about efforts regarding state parks, and he doesn’t expect shortfalls in annual state park revenues to accompany the lower price point on passes.

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“We’re going to have more people getting them, so that’s why the price is coming down,” Polis said of the passes. “Rather than having to go to a website and buy it, you do it with your motor vehicle registration.”

A resident may decline to pay the wild pass fee when registering their motor vehicle, but for those who decline that option, the price of the registration and the wild pass will be more than they’re currently paying.

To help brace for that potential increase and — hopefully, Polis says — buy the wild pass and start visiting more state parks, Polis says a reduction in motor vehicle registration fees will come first, in 2022, before the wild pass goes into circulation. The legislation calls for the implementation of the wild pass sometime in 2023.

Polis said the motor vehicle registration fee reduction of $11 will happen before the wild pass goes into effect, and annual cost of entry into state parks for Colorado residents “will go from $80 bucks, to under $30 bucks,” Polis said. “So we’re super excited about that.”

Donovan sponsored

State Sen. Kerry Donovan, of Vail, was among the prime sponsors of Senate Bill 21-249.

Donovan told the Vail Daily she had been working with Colorado Parks and Wildlife for years on how to increase support and resources for public lands in Colorado.

“This idea evolved from lots of brainstorming and listening to various groups around the state,” she said. “We had to figure out how to get all the user groups to support the public lands they love while also lower the cost barrier for others.”

Donovan said while some user groups wanted to lower the price of an annual state park pass, others wanted to see a bigger budget devoted to state parks. The idea to package the state park pass with the vehicle registration fee will “get to the lower price while creating a long-term funding source to protect the wild places we cherish,” she said.

“Forty-two state parks simply ain’t enough for a state our size.” —Gov. Jared Polis

Dan Gibbs, the executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, said the wild pass idea has become especially needed in recent years.

“At no time in Colorado has a need for action become more apparent than over this past year, when we’ve seen a dramatic increase in visitation and its impact on our natural resources,” Gibbs said.

The cumulative annual visitation of Colorado’s 42 state parks has risen by 4.7 million people over the last decade, to about 19 million annual visitors, Gibbs said, while the average park has increased its full-time staff by 4.4 people per park.

“This bill is very special, because it will not only allow us to reduce the cost and barriers to entry to our state parks and our public lands, but also improve the experience for all,” Gibbs said. “This bill will allow us to build new state parks, build and maintain trails, have resources to engage in conservation and recreation management on federal lands, support equity, diversity and inclusion through (Colorado Parks and Wildlife), support our state wildlife action plan, and invest in local and regional ideas for planning and developing conservation and outdoor recreation opportunities.”

New state parks coming

Polis also said he would like to see more state parks constructed, and has directed stimulus funds toward that end.

A $25 million stimulus bill, signed from Golden Gate state park on June 21, directs $14 million toward the creation of new state parks.

“Forty-two state parks simply ain’t enough for a state our size,” Polis said at the signing. “We have other outdoor treasures that we will forge the partnerships and make the investments needed to welcome even more people to Colorado’s great outdoors.”

Gibbs said the stimulus, while exciting, will create a lot of work for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Referencing Colorado Parks and Wildlife Director Dan Prenzlow, Gibbs said, “Dan and folks at CPW have a lot of work on their hands.

“And that’s a good problem to have,” Gibbs added, with a laugh. “To really look at the key priority projects around the state to get these projects off the ground with these one-time funds, immediately.”

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