FILE - Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park near Montrose, Colo.

(The Center Square) – Colorado saw a significant drop in spending from visitors to national parks in the state, according to federal data released Thursday.

Despite park closures and stalled state and national economies during the COVID-19 pandemic, six million people still visited Colorado lands managed by the National Park Service (NPS) last year.

Those visitors spent $392 million on things like lodging and recreational activities in “gateway” areas near the state’s NPS lands, according to the agency.

That’s down from a peak of $515 million spent in the state by visitors in 2019.

The visitor spending also supported 5,560 jobs last year and added $586 million in economic output to the state’s economy, according to NPS data.

Rocky Mountain National Park, which had a record 4.7 million visitors in 2019 and ranked as the third most visited national park that year, welcomed 3.3 million visitors in 2020, ranking fourth among national parks. Those visitors spent an estimated $224 million last year.  

The park closed on March 20 last year and began a “phased reopening” at the end of May 2020.

Mesa Verde National Park in southwestern Colorado welcomed 287,477 visitors who spent an estimated $30.2 million, while Great Sand Dunes National Park near Alamosa welcomed 461,532 visitors who spent $29.5 million, and Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park near Montrose had 341,619 visitors who spent $21.7 million.

Nationally, 237 million visitors visited national parks and spent an estimated $14.5 billion in gateway communities and supported 234,000 jobs, NPS said.

“The pandemic reminds us all of the importance of the outdoors not only to our economy, but also to our health and wellness,” NPS Deputy Director Shawn Benge said in a statement. “We are excited to welcome visitors back outdoors as weather warms and more people are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.”

Benge added that the agency expects high visitation rates this summer.

Regional Editor

Derek Draplin is a regional editor at The Center Square. He previously worked as an opinion producer at Forbes, and as a reporter at Michigan Capitol Confidential and The Detroit News. He’s also an editor at The Daily Caller.