ESTES PARK, Colo. (CBS4) – As the National Park Service prepares for a second summer of permitting visitors to keep capacity down, efforts are also underway to look at long term solutions. Some people are concerned the park is restricting access to the public’s land.

“If this goes the way they want it to go it will result in permanent change to the way the public gets in the park. And if we’re going to make that decision as a community or a country, we should have a lot more say discussion than we were having,” said Daniel Denning, an Estes Park resident.

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Denning was concerned in the spring when NPS announced it would have timed entry permitting through the summer. He started an online petition that has gained more than 2,100 signatures.

“I don’t see this as a problem that requires this kind of solution. If congestion is a problem, they already have a shuttle bus system, and they close the parking off when it’s full,” Denning said.

The Park Service says, “Park staff are managing for significant increases in visitation to public lands in Colorado, including Rocky Mountain National Park, along with continued COVID-19 concerns, ongoing park seasonal staff shared housing challenges, reduced shuttle bus capacity and residual fire impacts in some areas of the park from historic fires in 2020.”

Permits will be capped around 75 to 85% of capacity. Permits are not needed before 9 a.m. or after 3 p.m.

Denning says he’s heard from many people concerned a permit is needed to access the outdoors. He shared his concerns with Congressman Joe Neguse last weekend.

“(The Department of Interior has) made a commitment to racial justice, social justice and equity in the way public lands are used, and one of the things I brought up to Congressman Neguse’s attention, there’s 10’s of thousands of people on the Front Range who have fixed schedules, and there’s no doubt in my mind this is going to make it hard for those people to come up and enjoy the park,” he told CBS4. “I think that’s a fairness issue, and people are uncomfortable. If we’re going to be committed to making public lands available for everyone, we should take a look at that before we make a decision on what to do.”

(credit: CBS)

The Park Service has begun a process to ask the public what should be done about high visitation numbers. More than 4.6 million people visited the park in 2019. Key concerns include trash, feces, illegal campfires, dangerous wildlife interactions as well as overcrowding.

Denning thinks operational issues and reduced staffing are leading to the decision to restrict visits.

“If it’s graffiti in the bathrooms, or it’s extra trash, these are resource problems that could be solved with more resources. I don’t see a negative visitor experience. I see millions of Americans who have having the time of their life in a place they may never come to again. From the other side, that might be a big operational problem for the park but those aren’t negative experiences.”

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Jeff Todd