Visits to Mesa Verde National Park declined about 8% in 2018 compared with the previous year because of wildfires and the partial federal government shutdown.
Visits to the park dropped from 613,788 in 2017 to 563,420 in 2018, according to data from the park. The trend mirrors a decline in tourism spending in regional communities from $62.3 million in 2017 to $58.5 million in 2018, according to the National Park Service.
The Park Service includes costs such as gas, groceries, hotels and other related travel expenses when calculating regional spending.
The 416 and Burro fires likely hurt visits to the park over the summer, spokeswoman Cristy Brown said in an email to The Durango Herald. The fires also closed the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, U.S. Highway 550 and regional public lands, discouraging tourism, she said.
“If there is an impact in a community, highway, or resource, it affects the entire area,” Brown said in the email.
In August 2018, lightning started the 185-acre Moccasin Mesa Fire within Mesa Verde’s boundaries, which likely also hurt visitation, she said. The fire burned for a week and closed a parking lot within Mesa Verde.
Winter visitation suffered from the partial government shutdown that started Dec. 22. Typically, the park sees an uptick in visitation between Christmas and New Year’s, but it didn’t see that surge in 2018 because of the shutdown, she said.
The federal government shutdown lasted until Jan. 25. However, January accounts for only a small percentage of total visitation numbers, so the later weeks of the shutdown likely didn’t have a large impact, Brown said.
Snow from January until late May likely hurt visitation more than the shutdown because it caused park closures, Brown said.
Despite challenges, the park is looking forward to a successful summer season, said Superintendent Cliff Spencer.
The wet winter and spring are responsible for an abundance of wildflowers in the park, which might entice some tourists to visit, Brown said.
The park also added a new Cliff Palace Early Bird Tour for the summer that offers a more relaxed pace and optimal lighting conditions for photographers, she said.
It is the latest addition to other successful offerings, such as the Balcony House Sunrise Tour and Cliff Palace Twilight Tour, she said.
Tickets for special tours are available only online at www.recreation.gov.