State parks in western Garfield County see increases in visitors
State parks in western Garfield County have seen anywhere between a 5% to 60% increase in visitation from 2019 to 2020, according to data provided by the Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
Between Rifle Gap, Harvey Gap and Rifle Falls state parks, Harvey Gap saw the largest percentage increase in foot traffic between the years 2019 and 2020.
Annual traffic at Harvey Gap rose from 52,559 in 2019 to 78,683 in 2020, which is a 49.7% increase.
For Rifle Falls State Park, annual foot traffic increased from 123,323 in 2019 to 141,553 in 2020, a 14.9% increase.
Finally, annual foot traffic at Rifle Gap State Park shot up from 271,478 in 2019 to 294,877 in 2020, for an 8.6% increase.
Even at Rifle Mountain Park, a recreational site overseen by the city that offers ice climbing opportunities most winters, numbers have increased.
Revenue generated from other municipal annual and day-pass sales eclipsed $75,000 in 2020.
In 2020, the total revenue generated from annual-pass fees at Rifle Metro Pool was $9,345. Total revenue from day-pass sales, meanwhile, was $67,061.
In 2019, annual-pass sales generated $8,890 in revenue, while day-pass sales generated $39,069 in revenue.
The 2021 season has already seen $5,480 in season-pass fees as well as a whopping $13,823 in day-pass fees.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife spokesperson Travis Duncan said he isn’t surprised by the local numbers, because foot traffic at all Colorado state parks jumped from 15 million to 19 million visitors between 2019 and 2020.
Duncan, in fact, said he expected visitation to be higher at state parks in Garfield County. COVID-19 left people with little to do except maybe explore one of 42 total state parks in the Centennial State or partake in other outdoor recreational opportunities.
“We’re seeing these kinds of things across the state and seeing even bigger increases at Front Range parks,” he said. “They just really got slammed, like Pueblo and Cherry Creek and Chatfield.”
For instance, Pueblo State Park saw its numbers dramatically increase from about 2.47 million visitors in 2019 to 3.06 million in 2020.
Duncan said revenue at state parks increased from $8.87 million in July through December 2019 to $12.9 million in July through December 2020.
“It’s pretty positive that (the increase) was due to more people getting outside due to COVID,” Duncan said.
OUT AND ABOUT
Kim Konzil, a 28-year-old nurse from Atlanta who travels the country caring for COVID-19 patients, was enjoying a hike through Rifle Falls State Park on Friday.
Asked to provide her take on why foot traffic at state parks like Rifle Falls continues to increase, she said, “That’s a really good question.”
“I’ve thought about this a lot, and it’s kind of hard to articulate,” she said. “But when you’re just stuck at home, and just kind of with your own thoughts, you’re like, ‘Man, I want to go do something that uplifts me and makes me feel connected.’”
Hiking a place like Rifle Falls is also a good way to let her hair down, Konzil acknowledged.
“I mean, I’ve never been to war, but it made me think like, I wonder if this is what it feels like because everyone needs immediate help, and everyone’s just dying. Every shift was like that,” Konzil said of some of her experiences treating COVID-19 patients. “You just leave one room and look at the monitor and someone else is dying, and you leave to the next one and, at a certain point, you’re like, ‘Lay on your stomach and keep your mask on,’ and they still just slowly die.”
After typically working 12.5- to 13-hour shifts, Konzil said she looks forward to having the opportunity to explore outdoor places like Rifle Falls.
“It’s the only thing that keeps me going,” she said.
Other Rifle Falls State Park visitors, like 77-year-old Delbert Smith of Denver, enjoy the fact that they can spend retired life simply visiting the various outdoor attractions interspersed throughout the United States. He accompanied his 68-year-old wife, Judy Smith.
Having the opportunity to explore amid COVID-19, however, accentuated the experiences.
“For us, it was fantastic, because we’ve been traveling all over the country in a motorhome,” Delbert, 77, said. We stop at places like this and picnic.”
People can get away and yet, at a park, they’re still social distancing, Delbert said.
“You pull into a campground, and most of the campgrounds you just pick your paperwork up at the door,” Delbert said. “And then you went in the park and if you got neighbors, you’re 20 feet away.”
“Oh, I think this is gorgeous,” Delbert added of Rifle Falls. “This is one of our favorite places.”
Reporter Ray K. Erku can be reached at 612-423-5273 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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