Steamboat Springs Being one of the most popular parks in the state comes with its perks, and its problems. As the Colorado State Parks system moves to increase park fees next year to combat falling revenue, Steamboat Lake and Pearl Lake state parks have been chosen for an additional $2 per day camping increase, beyond the other basic fee increases that parks across the state are facing.
Beginning Nov. 1, the daily use fee at state campgrounds will go from $6 to $7, and overnight camping at Pearl and Steamboat Lakes, and 10 other state parks, will increase by $2 from May 1 to Sept. 30. Other Routt County parks are not impacted by the special camping increase.
“It’s frustrating for me, as an employee, to see the costs go up, but at the same time, the money has to come from somewhere,” Steamboat Lake Senior Ranger Brent Lounsbury said.
Steamboat and Pearl lakes share staff and a visitor center but are considered separate in the budgeting process.
That also resulted in a disparate measure of the parks in a recent review of all state parks for budgeting purposes.
The study ranked each of the 44 state parks and recreation areas using a weighted formula accounting for self-sufficiency, income per year, people served per year, survey responses from parks users and other factors. Pearl Lake ranked the lowest among Routt County parks, in 34th place, while Steamboat Lake was the highest in the county at 12th place. Stagecoach State Park was ranked 22nd. Elkhead Reservoir in Routt and Moffat counties was 23rd, and Yampa River State Park, also spanning Routt and Moffat counties, was ranked 34th.
State Parks spokeswoman Deb Frazier said the study and resulting rankings are just one tool the State Parks board is using to evaluate parks, but it also plays into the system’s financial plan and potential future budget cuts.
Frazier said the budgeting discussion will continue during the November board meeting and could entail cutting park hours or staffing at certain locations across the state, but not “closing the gates and putting a lock on it.”
Lounsbury said it mostly was number crunching that placed the Steamboat and Pearl lakes on opposite ends of the scale. Because the lakes are administered together, many of the budget items such as staffing are listed on the Steamboat Lake side, he said, but many parts of the operations are shared.
“I think Pearl Lake would be at the top of that list if we crunched it differently, or it could be lower,” he said.
Even with the disparate rankings, Lounsbury said Steamboat Lake and Pearl Lake state parks have been identified as very popular destinations, and he doesn’t anticipate more budget cuts at either one.
The parks already are operating on a budget that’s been cut about 10 percent, he said.
Lounsbury anticipates that slightly higher user fees won’t affect visitor numbers to Steamboat Lake and Pearl Lake.
“Basically, we’re a higher-use park, we’re more of a premium park,” he said. “There’s a perception that the public would be willing to pay more to come here, which is probably true. I would be surprised if we saw any visitation drop off because of that.”
Lounsbury said between 400,000 and 450,000 people visit the two parks annually.