Florissant Fossil Bed Visitors May Face Dramatic Fee Hikes

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by Rick Langenberg:

 

The price of hiking, cross country skiing, or enjoying a nature/science program at the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument may go up dramatically within the next year.

The National Park Service has targeted the Fossil Beds as one of 134 properties it manages across the country for significant fee hikes for daily visitors and annual passes. The price increases proposed at the Fossil Beds would raise daily admission costs from $3 to $7, according to the latest proposal unveiled by the Park Service. Annual pass users would experience a similar 100 percent increase with prices going up from $15 to $30.

These run parallel with increases slated for other national monuments in Colorado, such as the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Colorado National Monument and Dinosaur National Monument.

It’s still uncertain when exactly the fees would go into effect.  Plus, the plan does call for public meetings and input from community leaders and local residents.

But based on statements by National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis, a major price increase is inevitable. “The proposed increases in park entrance fees will allow us to invest in the improvements necessary to provide the best possible park experience to our visitors,” said Jarvis, in a memo sent to regional directors. He noted that this would mark the park service’s first major price increase since 2008.

In addition, the Park Service is gearing up for its 100th year anniversary in 2016. Jarvis wants to see the price increase for the Fossil Beds and other select properties, implemented within the next year.

Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument, located south of Florissant on Teller One, has been touted as one of the best tourist attractions in the county. It abounds with prehistoric fossil remnants from unique insects and plants.  It also sports a new visitor’s center and a plethora of more than 20 miles of trails, along with the late 1800s Hornbeck Homestead property.  Regular outdoor, natural science and wildlife appreciation programs are offered by the Fossil Beds staff throughout the year to attract hikers, cross-county skiers and youth interested in learning about the outdoors. The Florissant Fossil Beds attracts about 60,000 visitors a year, according to park service websites.

As a whole, national parks in Colorado are a major economic engine for the state’s tourism industry. Current statistics indicate that the state’s 13 park, monuments, historic sites and recreation areas attracted 5.4 million users in 2013, which translated to an estimated $331 million in dollars spent in the state, according to tourism experts.

Still, even with these impressive numbers, the prospects of a 100 percent-plus increase are receiving a cold response by some outdoor land managers and even by U.S. Senator Mark Udall, who serves on the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on National Parks. They say they understand the growing costs associated with improving aging infrastructure, but fear that many Colorado residents won’t be able to enjoy these great natural park treasures with high entrance fees.

But on other side of spectrum, National Park Service representatives say they have received much popular public support for the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act.  This legislation permits public land managers to collect fees to pay for the costs for infrastructure enhancements.  They also say public surveys have supported their stand.

According to an article in the Denver Post, Udall is urging “Coloradans who live near or enjoy our national parks to contact their local parks or monuments and the National Park Service to make their voices heard.” But the fee hikes aren’t a done deal. If much opposition develops to this plan, Jarvis has given local land managers the option of increasing fees through a phased-in approach, or to delay the new rates. And for Florissant Fossil Beds buffs, the financial pain with new rates is minimal compared to such sites as the Great Sand Dunes National Park. Sand Dune hikers and skiers are looking at a 150 percent-plus hike within the near future.