Dinosaur visits down before fire

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Many parks and monuments throughout Colorado have reported up to a 50-percent decrease in tourism over the summer due to wildfires.

But despite a 2,000-acre wildfire that burned there last month, Dinosaur National Monument Superintendent Chas Cartwright said he has not seen a significant decrease in visitors in recent weeks.

He said overall visits have been down the past three years.

"We have seen a slight decrease in visits but I don't think it's a factor of the fires," he said. "We've seen a decrease of a few percentage points over the past three years. I do not see a direct connection in the number of visitors with the fire."

Five years ago, the monument received almost 500,000 visits annually, but the past three years the total number of visits has been closer to 400,000, he said.

Cartwright could not specify exactly why the park has seen a decrease in visits, but said several factors could have impacted the numbers.

They include high gas prices, a desire to stay closer to home and the ongoing drought, he said.

"It was a very short season for floating the Yampa River," he said. "Normally at this time of year you could still take smaller boats down it. But right now if you put a boat in the river you'd be sitting it on top of gravel and sitting in one place."

Normally the Yampa River is running at 200 to 300 cubic feet per second.

This year it is less than 25, Cartwright said.

"The last few years the Yampa has seen a short season but this year was a very short season," he said. "The drought is an issue here."

The fires are affecting tourism in many areas, Cartwright said.

"The decrease in visits here is combination of many things," he said. "The fire is not a primary factor. Some areas in the West the fires are a major factor."

Dinosaur National Monument actually saw a 1.1 percent increase in June from last year.

But the Colorado State Parks Department has reported a 40 percent increase in campground cancellations and reported a 30 percent decrease in reservations since the wildfires broke out across the state.

The Royal Gorge Bridge and Park reported a 19 percent decrease in visits from last year.

In all 931,807 people visited Colorado monuments and parks in June last year. This year 908,091 came.

While Dinosaur National Monument has not felt the wildfire impact, Cartwright said it is his job to work to improve the low numbers from recent years.

"I think one of my focuses as superintendent is getting the word out on what we do well in the monument," he said. "The long-term preservation of the monument will be based on the public knowing the opportunity we have available here. We need to be getting out and letting people know locally and nationally."

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