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Environment

'That's What We Do Best': Rocky Superintendent Reflects On An Unusual Summer Season

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Rocky Mountain National Park

Tuesday marks the 104th birthday of the National Park Service. And in celebration of that birthday, KUNC’s Colorado Edition spoke with the superintendent of one of Colorado’s four national parks – Darla Sidles from Rocky Mountain National Park.

Interview Highlights

These interview highlights have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Henry Zimmerman: What do you see as the role of the National Park Service and national parks in America today?

Darla Sidles: I think the role of the National Park Service is to provide the American people an opportunity to get out in amazing open spaces such as Rocky Mountain National Park, to be able to recreate in those places, get away from the daily grind or urban areas, to become inspired by doing something to challenge yourself, or to learn about the many historic national parks that are across the United States.

We’ve got so many stories in the National Park Service to tell, from the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial, to Women’s Rights National Historical Park in New York, to the story of our Civil Rights Movement. There’s just so many things the National Park Service protects, and to be able to provide those opportunities for the public to see them, to be inspired by them, to learn from them, that’s what we do best is to provide those moments of inspiration and those moments of challenge and excitement.

I want to talk more about Rocky Mountain National Park’s response to COVID-19. The park opened to visitors earlier this summer, after a brief closure, and now requires reservations to enter. What else is the park doing to protect visitors and employees?

Well, the timed entry reservation system was very key, we feel, to helping to safely manage the pace and the flow of our visitation and to spread out the use. And we implemented that with a lot of support from all of our federal, state and local constituents.

We had support from Senators Gardner and Bennet, from Congressman Neguse, from Gov. Polis’ office, from Larimer County Public Health service, all of our surrounding counties, and of course the gateway communities of Estes Park and Grand Lake. And everyone felt like it was a good measure to implement; a system like that would help to spread out our use.

Right now the system runs from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m., and of course we’ve got people that come in outside of those hours, so our visitation is down slightly from what it would be normally, but maybe not as much as we thought it would be because of those folks who are coming in before and after those reservation system hours.

I think we’ve seen a lot of success from this timed entry system, from the standpoint of not having so many people and so many crowds in at the same time. We often have people coming to the park between 10 and 2, a huge surge, and this timed entry has helped us to spread that use out across the day. And so I think the park resources have really benefited as a result of that, and certainly for those who do plan ahead and get a reservation, their visitor experience has substantially improved from what a normal year would be like, when we do see a fair amount of crowding and congestion.

What will the rest of the summer and the upcoming fall season look like? Will there be any more openings or closures due to COVID-19?

We are running pretty steady right now, we don’t anticipate any additional changes.

As most Coloradans know, September is one of our most popular times because of the changing of the aspens and the elk rut, and it is our third most busy month of the year, and so we know that we’ll be challenged as we try to meter and monitor that use in the evening hours with the elk rut.

But we don’t anticipate any changes right now. The timed entry system is a temporary system; it was implemented specifically as a COVID response, and so we are looking to end that system on Oct. 12.

This conversation is from KUNC’s Colorado Edition from Aug. 24. You can find the full episode here.

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