According to a report, state auditors said that last year, the Colorado Parks and Wildlife fell short of maximizing the use of campsites and, as a result, failed to collect millions of dollars in campground fees.
The auditors said that uncollected fees may have brought in $2.8 million of revenue to the government agency, which could have helped pay for the $11 million annual budget gaps the agency anticipates facing by 2025.
Additionally, auditors said that based upon conversations with park managers, there is a risk that staffers and volunteers closed campsites to benefit family members 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 said that the state has over 4,200 overnight campsites that were booked 209,000 times in 2021. This generated $14.7 million in revenue.
Findings revealed that 36% of campsites were closed for at least one night from January 1 to September 7, and 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.
The report also found that 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 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 park 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.
A total of 268 canceled reservations were refunded for reasons not qualifying for a refund, totaling $12,500.
A $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.
One hundred sixty-two 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.
A total of $760,099 of potential revenue was lost with ‘full hookup’ campsite closures, with 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.
“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 recommendations to improve campsite management, 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 state auditors’ recommendations.