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Mesa Verde National Park visitation increases in wake of pandemic

Superintendent describes busy start to tourism season; road construction resumes
A vivid rainbow arches over the horizon above the alcove that contains Cliff Palace at Mesa Verde National Park. It is the largest alcove site in the nation. (Stephen M, Daniels/via Mesa Verde National Park Facebook)
Apr 17, 2022
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Mesa Verde National Park tours and services have reopened, and park visitation continues to increase post-pandemic.

“We have been busy with a good spring break showing. We’re back to pre-pandemic levels,” said new Park Superintendent Kayci Cook Collins at a meeting of the Montezuma County Board of County Commissioners on April 12.

March saw 19,291 recreation visitors, up from 16,313 for the same month in 2021, a 22% increase.

Jan. 1 through March 30, the park has seen 34,418 recreation visitors, up from 30,309 visitors by the same time last year, an increase of 13%.

In 2021, the park saw 548,477 visitors, up 91% from 2020 visitation of 287,477 during the height of the pandemic shutdowns. In 2019, there were 556,203 visitors to the park.

Restaurants, the Farview Lodge, cultural site tours, roads and camping are all reopening.

The park’s signature fine-dining restaurant, the Metate Room, is open and recently was refurbished with new interior and furnishing, Collins said.

“It looks really beautiful,” she said.

The nearby Farview Lodge, with its panoramic views, opened April 14.

Spruce Tree House Terrace diner has reopened after a nearly two-year closure because of the pandemic. The Farview Terrace cafeteria also is open for the year with expanded services.

The Morefield Campground is open for primitive camping. Full-service camping will open at the end of April.

Wetherill Mesa will open May 1, which makes available tours to Mug House and Square Tower.

All tours of cultural sites must be booked through recreation.gov. Tour tickets can no longer be purchased or reserved at the park’s visitor center.

The park has also resumed road construction projects, Collins said.

The Cliff Palace Cliff Road will be closed until June 15 for a paving project. The reopening of the road allows for tours of Cliff Palace and Balcony House tours to resume July 1.

After Cliff Palace paving is completed, crews will repave the Mesa Top Loop Road, which will be closed during construction. The road crews will then move to upgrade the park’s main road and build a new roundabout at the park entrance.

A small black bear pauses midstride while crossing a snowy landscape at Mesa Verde National Park. (Garin Greyeyes/Via Mesa Verde National Park Facebook)

Lingering impacts from the pandemic are keeping the Chapin Mesa Museum closed for now.

The museum is being upgraded with a new HVAC system. The project has been delayed because of supply chain issues for materials, Collins said. The park hopes to open the museum this summer.

The Spruce Tree House cliff dwelling is closed because of rockfall danger in the alcove. An environmental assessment evaluating alternatives and stabilization of the sandstone arch is expected to be released in May. Public comment will be sought. In response to increasing rockfalls, the park closed Spruce Tree House in October 2015.

A new wildfire management plan is under review for Mesa Verde National Park and Yucca House National Monument.

An environmental assessment was conducted, and there was a public comment period.

According to project documents, fire management activities at the park have been conducted under a Wildfire Emergency Response Procedure, which allows only full fire suppression and limited and localized fuel treatments to maintain defensible space in developed areas and around critical infrastructure. The WERP expires this year.

The new fire management plan is expected to be in place in September and will open the potential for prescribed burns and mechanical thinning.

In the meantime, no prescribed burns or mechanical thinning will be conducted at the park, and all wildfires will be under a full suppression strategy, Collins said.

According to the EA, the pending fire management plan would guide fire program activities and accommodate changes in federal wildland fire policy, guidance and practices based on ongoing improvements in the science of wildland fire management.

“The plan would provide a flexible range of options and activities that could be used to respond to changes in environmental conditions and the specific needs of fire management within the parks,” according to the environmental assessment summary.

jmimiaga@the-journal.com



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