Estes Park-area tourism hangs on edge of economic cliff

9:17 PM, Oct 7, 2013   |    comments
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ESTES PARK - Rocky Mountain National Park is closed indefinitely due to the federal government shutdown, and Estes Park is even more isolated than normal because its major thoroughfares are washed out from last month's historic flooding.

These are two troubling facts for an outdoor recreation destination that relies heavily on tourists visiting to see the elk, fly fish the world-class Big Thompson River and hike high into the Rockies.

According to a report released Thursday from the Regional Economics Institute at Colorado State University, last month's devastating floods, which ripped up U.S. highways 34 and 36 and damaged portions of Rocky Mountain National Park, could create a negative economic impact in Estes Park approaching tens of millions of dollars.

"We understand how vital the park and recreation is to this community," said Rocky Mountain National Park spokeswoman Kyle Patterson. "With the closure and devastation from the flood and now the park's forced closure, this has been a big blow to the area."

Rocky Mountain National Park attracted 3.2 million visitors in 2012, according to a report from the Department of Interior. Autumn is one of the park's busiest seasons, Patterson said, as people travel to the 265,000-acre national park for the annual elk rut and the aspens' golden shimmer.

The park closed its gates Tuesday morning amid the Congress spending dispute, sending home more than 300 of its employees.

Climate Progress estimates that for every day Colorado's four national parks - Rocky Mountain, Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Mesa Verde and the Great Sand Dunes - are closed, that's $2 million of economic impact lost, mostly felt in the areas feeding the national parks.

According to the CSU study, a recent economic impact study commissioned by the town of Estes Park suggests that tourism-related activity accounts for about 43 percent of local employment and 65 percent of total sales and use tax revenue. And with U.S. 34 and 36 both expected to be closed until Dec. 1, Estes Park will remain in its isolated state far from tourists.

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