BOBBY MAGILL

Journalist • Photographer

Bobby Magill is a senior science writer for Climate Central in New York and a journalist who has covered fracking and the environment in Colorado and New Mexico since 2001. 

Rocky Mountain National Park misses 3 million visitor mark for 2009

You read it here first: Rocky Mountain National Park didn't make it to 3 million visitors in 2009.

There's always much ado about how many people travel through Rocky's gates, mainly because it's one of the most visited national parks in the country. Of all the intermountain national parks between Grand Teton and the Mexican Border, Rocky attracts more visitors and makes its surrounding businesses more money than most of the region's other parks, Grand Canyon, of course, notwithstanding.

In 2009, 2.8 million people visited Rocky Mountain National Park — a 2.4 percent increase over 2008.

Now, I visited Rocky probably 20 times in 2009, so I figure I alone represent 20 of those 2.8 million visitors.

The park has seen 3 million visitors only six years out of its 94 year history. It's really difficult to fathom the volume of wapiti-obsessed tourists clogging Trail Ridge Road any heavier than it was last year, what with the iPhone-wielding hordes shooting grainy images of oblivious-looking ungulates while standing or sitting in the middle of the road. Or slamming on brakes nearly causing a 10-car pileup just to snap a shot of an elk and his big ol' rack.

I'll never tire of the scenery at the Continental Divide, so I suffer bumbling tourists gladly.

These visitation numbers matter because it has something to say about the level of impact the masses may be having on a national park. Look even closer, and you can gain insight into how those masses are moving through the park and what parts of the park are likely to see the fewest humans and therefore possess the greatest level of solitude.

It's no secret, though, that the masses stick to the well-trodden trails and popular roads. That means there's solitude aplenty where day trippers can't be found. My backpack trip along the Poudre River from its headwaters at Milner Pass to Highway 14 during the height of the tourist season last year yielded absolutely zero encounters with other human beings in the first eight miles of our hike. I can count on my left hand the number of people we encountered on the entire 20 mile trek, nearly half of which was within Rocky Mountain National Park.

Unfortunately, the hike also yielded absolutely zero encounters with elk, bear, deer or moose. But that's another blog entry.

Few 2009 national park visitation stats are in yet, but here are a few others that just posted:

• Great Sand Dunes saw 290,424 visitors in 2009, a 5.85 percent increase over 2008.

• Yellowstone had 4,152,923 visitors last year, up 5.27 percent from 2008.

• Arches National Park had 996,312 last year, up a whopping 7.3 percent from 2008.