Fee changes at Colorado’s state parks in 2019 to secure parks for future generations, officials say
CRAIG — Users pay most of the cost of maintaining, staffing, and conserving Colorado’s system of state parks and wildlife through fees and license purchases, the costs of which are about to rise.
“No one wants to pay more for essentially the same thing, but we’re playing catch-up at this point,” said Mark Lehman, acting park manager at Yampa River and Elkhead Reservoir state parks.
He added fees at state parks haven’t increased at the same rate as the consumer price index.
“With the passage of Senate Bill 18-143 (Future Generations Act), CPW is able to adjust pricing to meet the pressures of increased management costs and resource usage across the state,” according to the CPW website.
Beginning Jan. 1, parks, fishing, hunting, and camping fees will increase across all of Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s operations as part of the Future Generations Act.
The billed outlined 10 key goals the agency aims to achieve by 2025, facilitated through the increased revenue from entry, camping, and licensing fees.
In addition to conserving parks for future generations, Colorado Parks is enhancing visitor experiences, Lehman said.
“We want people to get the most bang for their buck,” he said.
In the past few years, Yampa State parks have hosted Hike or Treat, and this year, the first haunted forest, as well as improved facilities infrastructure, such as trails, signs, and campgrounds.
This winter, park visitors are able to borrow snowshoes to trek 1.5 miles of groomed trails or strap on a pair of ice skates to enjoy a new skate rink.
Lehman hopes a request for funds to create a 3-D archery range will be successful in 2019.
State parks provide a place for healthy activity, and as an enterprising agency, staff are working to give people good reasons to visit, Lehman said.
In 2019 anyone entering a park will “pay to play,” Lehman said.
Visitors walking or biking into the state’s parks will need to purchase a new $4 daily walk-in pass or carry proof of their annual pass when walking into the park.
“We don’t get a ton of walk-in access,” Lehman said. “I don’t expect to have a tremendous impact on our visitation.”
Existing parks passes will increase beginning Jan. 1 at the following rates:
• Individual daily passes increase from $3 to $4.
• Daily vehicle passes increase from $7 to $8.
• Affixed vehicle passes increase from $70 to $80 and from $35 per vehicle to $40 per vehicle for multi-vehicle passes.
• Dog off-leash daily passes increase from $2 to $3.
• Dog off-leash annual passes increase from $20 to $25.
• Aspen Leaf Passes, for those older than 64, increase from $60 to $70 and from $30 per vehicle to $35 per vehicle for multi-vehicle passes.
• Columbine Passes, for low-income individuals, will remain at the current rate of $14 per year.
A new annual pass option — a $120 hangtag assigned to an individual and transferable among vehicles — will become available.
“The fact is that it costs more money to fill up your gas tank at the gas station than it costs in most fees,” Lehman said.
Enforcement of the new fees will begin immediately, and while citations carrying fines of more than $50 are one consequence of not complying with the new fees, in Northwest Colorado, rangers intend to begin by educating the visiting public.
“We recognize it’s a change. We typically will default to education,” Lehman said.
Camping reservations and fees
State parks in the Yampa Valley are also switching to a reservation-only system.
“You can reserve at the last minute using the online system or via the telephone. This allows people to make reservations on the way, and that allows for some flexibility, while ensuring that you have a site,” Lehman said.
He understands people have questions about how it will work and points to the success over the past year of five parks — Cheyenne Mountain, Eleven Mile, Staunton, St. Vrain, and Trinidad Lake — that piloted the program.
“They saw an increase in camping, less staff time for filling out reservation cards,” Lehman said.
The campground reservation fees of $10 per campsite is being discontinued, but most other camping fees are increasing between $4 and $10 per night, depending on amenities and location.
• Full hookup campgrounds will increase to $32 to $41 per night, depending on the site.
• Electrical campgrounds increase from $24 to $26 per night to $28 to $36 per night.
• Basic campgrounds increase from $18 to $20 per night to $22 to $28 per night.’
• Primitive campgrounds increase from $10 to $12 per night to $14 to $18 per night.
• Cabins and yurts increase from $80 to $240 per night to $90 to $250 per night.
“We looked around the community at what some of these private campgrounds are charging, and really, it’s still a pretty good deal to camp in a state park,” Lehman said.
To determine the specific cost of camping at each park and make reservations, visit cpw.state.co.us/placestogo/parks
“Campers who occupy a reservation-only campsite without a reservation will be subject to a citation. All campers must reserve a campsite prior to occupying the site,” according to CPW’s website.
Ranger staff in Northwest Colorado hope visitors will take responsibility for using the system, but when confusion arises, they will work the issue out.
“The person who made the reservation has the priority, which could mean packing someone up to have them move, and no one wants that,” Lehman said.
The Future Generations Act also heralds increases in fishing and hunting license fees, with most resident licenses rising by $8.
“CPW receives federal matching dollars that will be increased by the fee changes applied to the purchase of any hunting and fishing license,” Lehman said.
For a complete listing of all fee changes visit cpw.state.co.us/, then click 2019 fees.
Another fee change approved by the state legislature is the Muscle Free Colorado Act, which provides additional support to the aquatic nuisance species program.
Mussels have caused billions of dollars in damage, especially in the upper Midwest and Lower Colorado River. Nearby states where mussel infestations exist include Utah, Arizona, Kansas, Nebraska, Texas, and Oklahoma.
“Colorado is one of just a few states in the country that doesn’t have an infestation of adult zebra or quagga mussels in any of its waters,” said Elizabeth Brown, invasive species program manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, in a new release.
She attributes that success to the watercraft inspection and decontamination prevention program, in place since 2008. The threat of boats transporting mussels is a growing concern.
In 2018, 51 boats were found with adult mussels, up from the previous record of 26 boats.
Boaters in Colorado state parks will be asked to further support the program through the purchase of an aquatic nuisance species stamp, in addition to paying annual registration on their crafts.
Stamps will cost $25 for residents and $50 for out-of-state visitors using motorized boats or sailboats. Stamps fees are in addition to existing registration fees, which vary based on the size of the craft.
The new fee will cover half the cost of the inspection program. The remainder will be paid by CPW and a variety of stakeholders, including federal agencies, local governments, water providers, and other partners.
Parks rangers staff an inspection station at Elkhead State Park from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. throughout the boating year. When inspectors aren’t present, the gates are closed.
“It’s an expensive program to run,” Lehman said. He explained the stakes are high, as state parks have few water rights.
“We manage the water rights owned by others for recreation,” he said. That means rights holders have the option to shut Elkhead Reseviour down to boating if they feel such activity is a threat to their infrastructure.
“That would be a huge loss to Northwest Colorado,” Lehman said.
As the New Year begins and changes take effect, he hopes the community will recognize the State Parks Services’ efforts to operate in an upfront and transparent manner.
“Feel free to reach out to me or any of your local parks with any questions or comments,” Lehman said.
Contact Sasha Nelson at 970-875-1794 or snelson@CraigDailyPress.com.