Colorado missed out on $2.8 million of revenue at campsites last year, according to a state audit

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
A familiar sight to anyone who sleeps in a tent. Blackpackers, an organization that aims to encourage people of color to experience the Colorado outdoors, held its inaugural camp out Aug. 17-18 at Eleven Mile State Park west of Manitou Springs.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s alleged mismanagement of campsite reservations last year cost $2.8 million in lost potential revenue, according to a state audit

CPW is a branch of the Department of Natural Resources and is tasked with balancing conservation with the recreational needs of the state. The organization oversees more than 4,200 campsites across Colorado. 

According to the audit, CPW collected $14.7 million in revenue from campsite reservations in 2021, but could have collected $2.8 million more if it weren't for unnecessary site closures, refunds, and sub-standard fee charges. 

The audit states that funding shortfalls for parks could reach $11 million annually by 2025 unless changes are made. The revenue lost last year at campsites would make up more than a quarter of the annual funding shortfalls.  

Other notable findings in the audit include:

  • 136,517 reservations were booked for sub-standard nightly fees. This led to a loss in over $835,000. A lack of documentation made it impossible for auditors to determine if the price reductions were legitimate. Regional managers are able to approve a park’s request to reduce reservation fees up to 50 percent to encourage occupancy and increase use.  
  • 36 percent of campsites were closed for at least one day between January 1 and September 7. These site closures could have brought in up to $1.9 million in additional revenue. Park managers said that campsites can be closed so that they can be used by CPW staff and park volunteers while they are working. Some managers said that there is a risk that closed campsites are misused to benefit friends and family of park staff. 
  • CPW refunded about $12,500 for canceled reservations for reasons that did not require a refund. CPW did not limit staff’s discretion when entering refunds, and a lack of documentation meant that the legitimacy of over 850 additional refunds could not be determined. 

Based on their findings, auditors made six recommendations for CPW going forward. These include better documentation for why sites have been closed, more training for staff using the reservation system and an increase in monitoring of reservation data to identify risk of fraud or abuse. 

CPW agreed with all six recommendations made in the audit. 

The agency declined an interview but said in an email that the organization is working to implement the recommendations made in the audit. They said site closures are an important tool for park management, but they acknowledged the organization needs better “processes and procedures to document and approve campsite closures for a clearly defined reason.”

CPW plans to start implementing changes based on the audit’s findings this December.

Editor's note: KRCC has removed a line from this story that incorrectly associated a 2018 increase in fees with the recent audit.