Rocky Mountain National Park, a Boon for Local Economy, Needs $80 Million in Overdue Repairs

Small-business owner says investment is critical to handling surge in visitors after COVID-19 shutdown lifts

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Rocky Mountain National Park, a Boon for Local Economy, Needs $80 Million in Overdue Repairs
Amy Hamrick
Kind Coffee owner Amy Hamrick stands outside of her shop in Estes Park, a gateway community to Rocky Mountain National Park, which attracted a record of more than 4.6 million tourists in 2019.
Amy Hamrick

Amy Hamrick’s love of the outdoors led her to move to Rocky Mountain National Park after graduating from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1998. Today, after almost 20 years of working as an outdoor guide and barista, Hamrick owns and manages Kind Coffee in Estes Park, a town that sits right outside of the park. Kind and other local businesses rely heavily on tourism, which is why Hamrick hopes Congress passes legislation to help the National Park Service address the $80 million in overdue repairs in the park—part of $12 billion in deferred maintenance across the National Park System. The Pew Charitable Trusts spoke with Hamrick about running a business in a small town and why investing in the repair backlog is important.

Q: How important is Rocky Mountain National Park to small businesses like yours in Estes Park?

A: Since the park makes up the majority of the public lands directly accessed in Estes Park, it’s critical to our business. Not only does it attract out-of-town guests, but it’s also why most of the locals live here. When the park is closed [which was from March 20 until May 27, when it began a phased reopening], it’s like part of our community is missing.

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Lily Lake, one of many iconic sights in Rocky Mountain National Park, glows in the dusk light.
Getty Images/iStockphoto

Q: Tell us what’s behind your company name.

A: Kind Coffee is, of course, a coffee shop, but it’s really much more than that. I have a degree in outdoor recreation administration and came to Estes Park to work in the outdoors and make a difference in people’s lives. When I had the opportunity to start this business, I knew it needed to be something that I could base my personal values on. While the product itself is “kind”—organic, fair trade, and Colorado-roasted—our space is also kind: a large gathering area for community, meetings, and personal growth. But most importantly, the team is kind. It’s cultivated to attract like-minded employees.

Amy Hamrick
Kind Coffee’s proximity to Rocky Mountain National Park sometimes draws visits from wildlife that live in those public lands, such as this elk.
Kathy Harding

Q: Rocky Mountain National Park needs more than $80 million in overdue repairs—part of a nearly $12 billion backlog across the National Park System. How important is it for those maintenance issues to be addressed?

A: I can’t imagine opening my shop every day without doing the maintenance and upgrades that are continuously necessary. Like it or not, Rocky and its facilities are a direct representation of Estes Park and even Kind Coffee. With record visitation in the park, it’s no surprise that there is a backlog of overdue repairs. There’s never enough money to do it all. However, in my mind, it’s critical that the park service be able to invest in as many of these projects as possible.

Q: How has the Estes Park community come together during the COVID-19 pandemic?

A: Locals who are less impacted financially are supporting businesses that are struggling; nonprofits are collaborating to support people who need meals, housing, and personal items; and the town has focused on how best they can support both entities. The businesses, which are typically huge supporters of the nonprofit community, are finding themselves saying “thank you” in ways we never imagined. Additionally, Rocky and Estes Park attract a national following; folks who have come here year after year hold this place near and dear to their hearts and have come together to support us as well.

Amy Hamrick
Hamrick pauses at the top of a backcountry ski ascent in Rocky Mountain National Park. Living in Estes Park gives the local business owner direct access to her favorite pastimes.
Amy Hamrick

Q: In normal times, how often do you get into the national park, and what are your favorite areas there?

A: I try to get into the park weekly, or as often as possible. My favorite place is anywhere above tree line. But I often settle—though it’s hardly settling!—for a quick hike or trail run amongst the aspen and wildflowers.

Q: What do you think visitation will look like at Rocky as the park continues to reopen?

A: We were on track to hit 5 million annual visitors here soon, and while breaking records may seem like success, I am hopeful that visitation will not return to those levels, at least not right away. This breathing room will maybe give the park service time to better assess the impact of all those visits and manage the record number of visitors to come. But when the park is closed, like during COVID-19, government shutdowns, and the flooding of 2013, business is directly negatively impacted, so we need to strive for a healthy balance.

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Why We Need to Fix Our Parks, 2020

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The National Park Service (NPS) is over 100 years old, and the infrastructure and facilities at the more than 400 sites it manages nationwide are aging. Add wear and tear from visitors and inconsistent annual funding, and the park service can’t keep pace with needed repairs. NPS’ maintenance backlog has grown to an estimated $13.1 billion, and more than half of that is for highest-priority assets.

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Rocky Mountain National Park

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Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park is a spectacular area with majestic mountains, wildflowers, and abundant wildlife. It is one of the most visited parks in the country and offers sightseers access to incredible outdoor adventures.