General fund appropriation gives Ridgway State Park means of meeting more campground demand | Local News Stories

Ridgway State Park will soon be able to provide a long-sought amenity: a large group campground.

The park was among several to receive part of $20 million general fund money appropriated under the freshly signed Senate Bill 112, a bipartisan stimulus effort aimed at infrastructure projects.

Ridgway’s $1.5 million share will be spent on creating a 15-site RV hookup and 10-site walk-in tent campground will make things easier for those looking to stay at the park with a larger group, and/or one that includes both RVs and tents.

“We don’t have a group campground. Currently, you’ve got to reserve each site and don’t know if you’ll (group members) will be together,” Kirstin Copeland, Ridgway State Park manager, said. “It’s kind of been one of those missed opportunities for folks.”

She said the “rough plan” is to put the new campground at Dallas Creek, which has a nice setting and is less built out. The campground will also reduce the negative effect single or smaller group campers can experience when a large group’s members are interspersed among them.

“There’s a long process to get to that end, but the plan is to do 15 sites with a central restroom area,” Copeland said. The park would then add the 10 walk-in sites. “I think it’s going to be a great addition,” she added.

The large group campground will mean a party can reserve multiple sites with a single action, instead of trying to get campsites next to each other for each member, which often is a logistical impossibility, because other would-be campers are using the same reservation system at the same time.

Also, if the new campground is not reserved by a large party, the hope is that reservations can be set up to allow individual site use, which will help the frequently at-capacity park.

“We hope to be able to run it both ways,” Copeland said.

Campgrounds tend to have a pre-site cost based on materials used and what it takes to install infrastructure. The RV sites will have full water, sewer and electrical hookups. “I think it’s certainly in the same zone that I’ve heard other similar-sized campgrounds run,” Copeland said, although shifting materials costs make the $1.5 million cost something of a “moving target.”

Senate Bill 112 directs funds to outdoor projects protecting public lands and expanding outdoor recreation opportunities.

The COVID-19 pandemic restrictions closed opportunities for much travel, events and other traditional pastimes, but outdoor-based recreation remained possible — and proved wildly popular. Demand at Colorado’s state parks exploded as people looked for socially distanced activities, an announcement of the bill’s signing said. Usage grew by 2.2 million visitor days from the 2014-15 state fiscal year and an additional 30% during the spring of 2020.

“Throughout the pandemic, we watched our Colorado community flock to our state parks in record numbers for solace and the mental and health benefits associated with spending time outdoors,” Gov. Jared Polis said in the announcement.

“The increase in park visitation proves the importance of outdoor spaces to Coloradans, and our collective need to invest in preserving and improving our state park system so our human use does not overwhelm our state’s natural resources. This increased funding, which is part of Colorado’s bipartisan stimulus package, will provide additional access and recreational opportunities that connect people to the outdoors and protect the landscapes that make Colorado so spectacular.”

Dan Gibbs, director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, also hailed the bill becoming law. “The importance of our state parks and visiting our vast Great Outdoors has never been more important than today. This targeted funding will enhance Coloradan’s visitor experience to our state parks for generations to come,” he said in the announcement.

At Ridgway State Park, the roughly 270 campsites available for rental were consistently booked solid over the past year and a group campground has been among the highest priority requests from visitors.

Demand has shot up, Copeland said. This month, the existing RV campground was filled completely two Saturdays — unheard of in previous years, she said.

“To really see that this time of year is very unusual. We had people just champing (at the bit) to get in the lake with a boat,” Copeland added, telling of how some boaters volunteered to use their own water craft to break up the ice. “We had six people lined up when we opened the boat ramp last week. … At our popular sites, there’s nothing more than about a three-day (block) open for the whole summer,” she added.

People hoping to book a campground stay for longer than three days at a time are going to be disappointed; it is not shaping up to be an option at Ridgway State Park this summer.

“It’s a place that people like to come, but when I talk to managers across the state, I think this is outdoor recreation in general. I don’t know if this is (due to) the pandemic, or a new trend, but the one place people know they can go is outside,” Copleand said.

“ … I think it’s (the $1.5 million award) going to be a really great opportunity. This is a unique funding opportunity for the agency.”

Katharhynn Heidelberg is the Montrose Daily Press assistant editor and senior writer. Follow her on Twitter, @kathMDP.

Katharhynn Heidelberg is the Montrose Daily Press assistant editor and senior writer. Follow her on Twitter, @kathMDP.

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