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Mesa Verde links fee increase to projects and trails

Spruce Tree House repairs is high priority
Spruce Tree House in Mesa Verde National Park is closed to the public indefinitely due to stability issues.

Thursday is the final day to comment on a possible fees increase at Mesa Verde National Park.

Revenue from a fees increase would go toward supporting various projects at the park, including infrastructure improvements and a new trail. Online comments may be submitted at parkplanning.nps.gov/MEVE66815 through 5 p.m. Thursday.

Under the proposal, entrance fees would rise to $20 per vehicle during the summer season, from May to October. Currently, that price is $15. Per-person and motorcycle fees during the high season would increase from $8 to $10, and an annual park pass would rise from $30 to $40.

“We are committed to keeping the park affordable, but we also want to provide visitors with the best possible experience,” Park Superintendent Cliff Spencer said in a press release. “The money from entrance fees is used to improve visitor facilities and amenities. The revised fees will help us offset increased costs for construction and rehabilitation that keep these facilities in good condition.”

Spring, fall and winter fees for private vehicles would increase to $15, from $10. Per-person and motorcycle off-season fees would raise to $8, from $5.

The proposed fee changes would start Jan. 1. There will be no changes to commercial or tour fees. Youths age 16 and under are not charged entrance fees, and holders of America the Beautiful, senior, access, military, volunteer and fourth-grade passes are not charged.

Park staffers hosted an open house Tuesday at First National Bank in Cortez to answer questions on the possible fees increase. Rangers presented a list of more than 50 projects that are being considered at the park. Most are estimated to cost $100,000 or more.

One high-priority project will be stabilization improvements at Spruce Tree House. The popular cliff dwelling has been closed since February because of falling rock. Repairs to Spruce Tree House are estimated at $100,000, and the project would take multiple years, Ranger Eric Andersen said.

“We’re very sad that it’s not open for people,” he said. “A fee increase will support that repair and make it safe to visit again.”

The dwelling is built in a sandstone alcove, and an arch at the front of the alcove is separating from the canyon wall, Andersen said.

Among projects on the improvements wish list for the park is the $9.5 million replacement of 5.4 miles of main water line from the north side of the park to the Chapin Mesa area. The $2.9-million replacement of archaeological site shelter enclosures along the Far View sites and Mesa Top loop roads is on the list. Another project is the $557,000 construction of an additional restrooms building at the Chapin Mesa loop to increase user capacity.

A new hiking trail — the Moccasin Mesa trail — also is on the docket to be constructed on the north side of the park. The $373,000 project would add a new 1.1-mile trail that would start at the Montezuma Valley overlook and follow an old road grade along the mesa rim to the Bravo Cut parking area, just before the Park Point turnoff.

The park currently collects about $1 million per year in entrance fees, but about 20 percent of that goes to support other parks that do not collect entrance fees, and another large portion supports staff wages and other costs of collection, according to park staff. A fees increase could mean an additional $300,000 may be collected each year.

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