Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument, a National Park Service (NPS) site in central Colorado, is fittingly named, boasting the most diverse fossil deposits ever discovered. Over the years, the park had fallen into some disrepair, to the point that $2.6 million in needed maintenance had gone unaddressed—part of an estimated $11.6 billion in deferred maintenance projects at NPS sites nationwide. Many of those issues affect visitor access and safety, preservation of national treasures, and local economies.
But things are finally improving at Florissant Fossil Beds, where recent repairs are helping serve visitors who come to see the fossils of insects and plants that lived there 30 million years ago.
The improvements greet visitors from the moment they arrive at the monument, which sits in a lush, high meadow 35 miles west of Colorado Springs. NPS recently updated one of the parking lots with additional spaces for cars, buses, and recreational vehicles. This helps prevent visitors from parking along roadways and in non-designated areas—a safety and resource protection issue. Additional updates were made to the overflow lot, changing the previously unpaved area to a hard surface.
The repairs also included the addition of a center sidewalk in the main parking lot so tourists don’t have to walk along the roadway to reach the visitor center, along with more accessible parking spaces, curb ramps, and crosswalks with a truncated-dome surface to help visually impaired guests stay on the path.
Maintenance in the visitor center includes an updated interpretive media display on the fossil beds. The exhibit is near prehistoric fossils of flowers, leaves, bees, and other insects.
The area outside the visitor center offers vistas dotted with the petrified remains of the early cousins of our redwood trees.
While many repairs have been made, including widening and resurfacing some trails to make them more accessible and safer, one area is still awaiting repair: the historic 1870s Hornbek Homestead, named for Adeline Hornbek, who defied traditional gender roles by homesteading here with her four children.
The park says visitors have been offering positive comments about the repairs and sharing feedback on areas where they would like to see further improvements. Visitor satisfaction, access, and safety are critical both within our national park sites and to the surrounding communities that depend on spending by park guests. Last year alone, visitors spent more than $18 billion in cities and towns near these sites, boosting the local economies and creating jobs.
Marcia Argust directs The Pew Charitable Trusts’ campaign to restore America’s parks.