Camping site

Photo Credit: MariuszBlach (iStock).

The Colorado Parks and Wildlife fell short in maximizing the use of campsites for the public last year, and, as a result, failed collect millions of dollars in campground fees, state auditors said in a report released Monday. 

Those uncollected fees could have generated $2.8 million in revenue for the agency – money that would have helped cover $11 million in annual budget shortfall the agency expects to face by 2025, the auditors said. 

In addition, state auditors said, based on conversation with park managers, that risk exists that staffers and volunteers closed campsites to benefit family or friends. 

“I’ve seen staff do this frequently for friends,” the audit cited one of the park managers as saying. 

The Colorado Office of the State Auditor's report noted that the state offers more than 4,200 overnight campsites, which were booked a total of 209,000 times throughout 2021, driving $14.7 million in revenue.

"We appreciate the auditors’ review of CPW’s processes and procedures for campsite reservations, and are immediately working to implement the recommendations in the report," Heather Dugan, acting director of Colorado Parks and Wildlife, said in a statement. "The audit identified that CPW needs better processes and procedures to document and approve campsite closures for a clearly defined reason. Campsite closures are important management tools for our park managers, and we will continue to use closures when campsites are not usable (such as when covered in snow during the winter) during emergency situations like wildfires, and for volunteer camp hosts and trail crews."

Here's a look at a few of the noteworthy findings:

- 36% of campsites were closed for at least one night from January 1 to September 7. While closures may have been for legitimate reasons, discrepancies in reservation data made it impossible to determine what closures were reasonable. If these campsites were open and reserved by the public, it could have brought in $1.9 million in added revenue.

65% of reserved camping nights (136,500) were booked at a discounted rate, totaling $837,000 less than what could have been charged. Regional managers approved the discounts, but they did not document their rationale for how the fee reductions would lead to more occupancies. Some of these discounts are associated with a certain type of parks pass, while other discounts may be put in place due to low interest in a campground, lack of updated amenities, or when some facilities are closed or aren't fully operational.

268 canceled reservations were refunded for reasons that do not qualify for a refund, totaling $12,500.

$14.7 million in revenue was collected, but up to $2.8 million more could have been collected in the absence of issues revealed in the audit.

78,916 reservations in northeast Colorado, home to 15 state parks, made this the most popular region.

22,763 reservations were made in the southwest region, home to 8 state parks, making this the least popular region among campers. 

162 of the 2,564 campsites (6%) were closed for 120 days or more; 317 of the closures (12%) were in place for more than a month.

$760,099 of potential revenue was lost with 'full hookup' campsite closures, which have a minimum standard nightly fee of $41. The full hookup sites were closed for a total of 18,539 nights. One of the more expensive options, this type of site also accounted for the most closed nights.

6,520 nights were booked and paid for at full hookup sites, accounting for $235,074 in collected fees. While full hookup sites were behind a lot of the missed opportunity in terms of driving revenue last year, these sites are also booked at a much lower rate and drove less overall revenue.

95,550 reservations were made at tent/electric sites, the most of any category. The next most popular option was a 'basic' site, accounting for 32,880 reservations.

$2.83 million was collected at tent/electric campsites, more than any other type of site.

“Colorado has a great asset in its state parks system. We want to ensure that the State is maximizing campsite resources for use by all Coloradans and our out-of-state visitors. We also want to ensure that fee revenue from campsite reservations is maximized, since that fee revenue helps to fund the parks,” said Audit Supervisor Cariann Ryan.

State auditors made several recommendations to improve management of the campsites, most of which were related to better documentation of campsite closures and discounts, along with other aspects of operation. They also suggested additional training.

The Colorado Parks and Wildlife agreed with each of the state auditors' recommendations. 

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