Rocky Mountain park balances visitation growth, short staff

FORT COLLINS — Rocky Mountain National Park’s number of search and rescue incidents hasn’t increased as of late, but visitation has — which puts a strain on resources, Chief Ranger Mark Pita said.

The park, which often ranks in the top five for national parks with the most search operations, had 131 search and rescues between January and August this year. Last year, the park had 146 search and rescues, the Coloradoan reported Saturday.

In 2016, the park recorded 4.5 million visitors, up 40 percent from 2012.

“What’s challenged us is that the increasing visitation puts additional demands on the same staff who do the search and rescue in the park,” Pita said. “We’re constantly having to juggle all the high visitation and the impacts related to that, in addition to the already heavy workload for search and rescue.”

The park doesn’t have a dedicated search and rescue staff. Instead, park administrators organize training for staff members.

It’s difficult to predict how many staff members the park will need to add as visitation grows. But throughout the past 10 years, the park’s climbing ranger staff has grown from two seasonal positions to four permanent and six seasonal positions, Pita said.


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