A crowded day on Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park. 

(Courtesy Flickr user Kent Kanouse)

 

Visitors to our state really, really like our national parks and monuments. And with that affection comes something else: money.

More than 7.5 million visitors to Colorado’s 12 National Park Service units spent $485 million in 2016, according to a new report from the agency. Spending was up by about 8 percent and visits rose by 5.5 percent over 2015, said Patrick O'Driscoll, spokesman for the NPS Intermountain Regional Office in Denver.

"It was a huge year for the park service,” O’Driscoll said.

He attributed the bump to low gas prices and the Find Your Park publicity campaign for the park service’s centennial. That effort had backing from business giants like American Express, REI and Subaru.

Rocky Mountain National Park leads the pack with more than 4.5 million visitors last year, who spent nearly $300 million in and around the park. The parks contributes some $722 million to the state's economy, the report says.

Park Unit Total visits Total visitor spending Jobs Labor Income Value Added Economic Output
Rocky Mountain NP 4,517,586 $298,746,700 4,575 $169,248,100 $273,812,200 $455,824,700
Curecanti NRA 982,498 $42,453,700 565 $17,982,100 $29,647,900 $49,014,400
Mesa Verde NP 583,527 $60,591,000 883 $23,648,100 $42,203,300 $73,272,900
Colorado NM 391,076 $24,513,600 368 $963,400 $17,368,500 $30,315,900
Great Sand Dunes NP 388,307 $2,370,100 348 $9,194,600 $16,456,800 $28,938,700
Dinosaur NM 304,312 $18,084,200 244 $7,250,200 $11,965,700 $20,457,600
Black Canyon NP 238,017 $14,616,100 197 $6,769,000 $11,041,600 $18,040,200
Florissant Fossil Beds NM 73,564 $4,301,200 65 $2,354,100 $3,779,400 $6,255,300
Hovenweep NM 42,863 $2,709,000 39 $1,039,600 $1,825,400 $3,153,800
Bent's Old Fort NHS 31,948 $1,868,000 29 $739,100 $1,318,200 $2,302,400
Sand Creek Massacre NHS 6,848 $400,400 7 $108,400 $210,300 $399,000
Yucca House NA NA NA NA NA NA

Some 11 percent of visitors surveyed in 2015 said their main purpose for coming to Colorado was the outdoors, according to the Colorado Tourism Office. And research from the Outdoor Industry Association says outdoor recreation accounts for about $13.2 billion in consumer spending in the state.

But with that comes concerns of overuse. Just this week, the Forest Service threatened to close the popular Hanging Lake trail near Glenwood springs because of graffiti on trees and rocks. The number of visitors to the lake has grown from 90,000 in 2012 to more than 137,000 last year.

It's too soon to tell what kind of year 2017 will be for the state's national park units, O'Driscoll said. But he says the park service hopes many first-time visitors from last year will come back again.

"We think that last year's celebration really put the National Parks on the radar screen for a lot of people who may not have been aware of them or visited them," he said.