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Near-record crowds in 2021 intensified challenges for Rocky Mountain National Park rangers

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Near-record crowds in 2021 intensified challenges for Rocky Mountain National Park rangers

As more people leave cities seeking outdoor recreation on public land, Rocky Mountain National Park rangers are preparing, months ahead of the peak summer season, for a surge in visitors and associated strains.

Rocky Mountain National Park drew an estimated 4.4 million people in 2021, up by 1.1 million after a COVID-19 slump in 2020, and officials this week were anticipating a continued upward trajectory — in line with a decade-long climb by 50% to a record 4.6 million visitors in 2019.

A timed entry online reservation system similar to those implemented at urban art museums will operate here starting May 27 in an effort to control crowds.

The growing numbers include more people who miscalculate conditions and their abilities hiking in thin air, and park officials also are ramping up search and rescue capabilities. Rangers said they’re preparing, in addition, for more emergency medical calls for help as visitors suffer heart attacks, strokes and altitude sickness. They’re tasked with law enforcement, too — rangers carry guns — responding to vehicle collisions and trying to control speeders.

On top of all that, park rangers and staffers scramble to manage more trash and try to minimize degradation of delicate terrain such as meadow wetlands and high elevation tundra.

“We’re charged with making sure we protect the park for the people, protecting people in the park from people, and protecting people from the park,” chief ranger Jay Shields said. “We’ll see an ever-evolving and increasing search and rescue load, running the gamut from twisted ankles to people taking fatal falls.”

Yet staffing levels have decreased, as at other national parks, while challenges of coping with more people intensify.

For years, Rocky Mountain National Park — covering 415 square miles northwest of Denver with 60 peaks above 12,000 feet elevation — has ranked among the top parks for numbers of searches and rescues. These have decreased, park records show, from 165 in 2017 to 120 last year, even as visitation increased.

An average of five visitors a year die in Rocky Mountain National Park, mostly from falls but also suicides.

The number of people flocking to national parks has been rising across the country amid an outdoor recreation boom, encouraged by state-backed tourism promotion and a rec industry that harnesses pristine natural areas as engines for economic growth.

And at Rocky Mountain National Park, a steady increase from 4.1 million visitors in 2015 led to a record 4.6 million in 2019. During 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic forced lockdowns in cities, the park still had 3.3 million visitors.

It has emerged as about the third most visited among the 63 national parks in the United States that Congress created to preserve natural beauty, geological features, diverse ecosystems and recreational opportunities. Overall, parks nationwide saw a 17% increase in visits between 2010 and 2019.

Those encompassing rugged mountain terrain faced some of the biggest increases during that time, including Great Smoky Mountains National Park (33%), Zion National Park (68%), Grand Teton National Park (28%), and the Great Sand Dunes National Park (86%).

The National Park Service is implementing timed-entry and other reservation systems at many  parks this year, including Arches National Park, Glacier National Park, Acadia National Park, Muir Woods National Monument, Shenandoah National Park, Haleakala National Park and Zion National Park.

On one hand, more people driving out of cities for outdoor recreation “is amazing, a wonderful thing,” Rocky Mountain National Park spokeswoman Kyle Patterson said. On the other, more people overall means more who underestimate terrain and fast-changing weather. “It can kill you if you’re not prepared.”

Overwhelming summer surges in recent years have compelled more people to seek access during winter. Thousands now enter backcountry areas on winter weekends, including hundreds with snowboards and skis.

To cope with more people, rangers who once focused more on managing elk, moose and bears have been ramping up warnings, advising visitors to bring proper gear on hiking trails, take a cautious approach and minimize their impact.

“We’re trying to encourage folks to make good decisions,” said Mike Lukens, the park’s wilderness and climbing program supervisor. “We have growing winter populations and we’re focusing on avalanche awareness.”

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Candidate in hospital, others scrambling before Pa. primary

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Candidate in hospital, others scrambling before Pa. primary

By MARC LEVY and MICHAEL RUBINKAM

SCRANTON, Pa. (AP) — The last full day of campaigning in Pennsylvania’s hotly contested primaries for governor and U.S. Senate began Monday with a top Senate candidate in the hospital and establishment Republicans trying to stave off victories by candidates they worry will be unelectable in the fall.

Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, who is leading in polls and fundraising in the Democratic Party’s primary for U.S. Senate, remained in the hospital Monday after suffering a stroke right before the weekend.

His campaign said he won’t appear at Tuesday’s election night party in Pittsburgh, though Fetterman said Sunday that he is feeling better, expected to make a full recovery and will resume campaigning after getting some rest.

Meanwhile, new attack ads are airing against late-surging Republican U.S. Senate candidate Kathy Barnette as many in the Republican Party establishment have begun trying to consolidate their support to prevent Doug Mastriano from winning the party’s gubernatorial nomination in the presidential battleground state.

Some Republicans fear Barnette and Mastriano are too polarizing to beat Democratic opponents in a general election. Barnette and Mastriano have campaigned together, endorsed each other and promoted conspiracy theories, including former President Donald Trump’s lies that widespread voter fraud cost him the 2020 election.

They also have spent a fraction of the money that some of their rivals have.

The scrambling reflects the high stakes of Tuesday’s elections in Pennsylvania and the uncertainty that has rattled the campaigns in the last week amid news of Fetterman’s hospitalization and last-minute jockeying in the Republican primaries.

In the governor’s race, an organization that has reported spending about $13 million to boost Republican candidate Bill McSwain, a lawyer who was Donald Trump’s appointee for U.S. attorney in Philadelphia, switched its allegiance to former congressman Lou Barletta barely two days before polls close.

Commonwealth Partners Chamber of Entrepreneurs, a business advocacy group whose political action committees are conduits for cash from billionaire Jeffrey Yass, said it believes Barletta has the best chance to beat Mastriano. The group is now calling on McSwain to drop out and endorse Barletta.

Mastriano, newly endorsed by Trump, belittled efforts by Republicans to defeat him and characterizes Democrats, including President Joe Biden, as far-left radicals.

“The swamp struck back, but they struck and they failed, they missed, and Donald Trump came in in the midst of their conspiring with each other’s swamp-like creatures and endorsed me and cut the legs out from underneath them,” Mastriano said in an interview Monday with the Light of Liberty podcast.

Meanwhile, in the hard-fought Republican primary for U.S. Senate, Barnette worked to fend off growing attacks from former hedge fund CEO David McCormick and heart surgeon-turned-TV celebrity Mehmet Oz, Trump’s endorsed candidate.

Barnette said on conservative Breitbart Radio on Monday that “I’m not a globalist, both of them are” and that they have “very strong ties to the World Economic Forum,” an organization that has been the subject of right-wing conspiracy theories.

They are pretending to be “Trump card-carrying members of the patriot party,” she said, and she called Oz — he was born in the United States to parents who emigrated from Turkey and holds dual citizenship — “not only an American, but Turkish as well.”

“Globalist” is a derogatory term with an antisemitic origin adopted by Trump and others in his orbit to conjure up an elite, international coterie that doesn’t serve America’s best interests.

Barnette also suggested on Breitbart Radio that she would not support Oz or McCormick if they win the primary, saying, “I have no intentions of supporting globalists.”

However, she later seemed to contradict herself, telling reporters in Scranton: “I do believe they are globalists, and I find that very unnerving. But … I will do everything I can for the GOP in order to make sure we win, and make sure Democrats do not win.”

Trump’s endorsements of both Mastriano and Oz have twisted Pennsylvania’s Republican establishment into contradictions, as some warn that Mastriano is too far to the right to beat Democrat Josh Shapiro in the fall general election.

Trump himself has warned that Barnette cannot win in the fall — yet Mastriano is campaigning with her. In a telephone townhall Monday night with Oz, Trump warned that when Barnette is “vetted, it’s going to be a catastrophe for the party.”

With polls showing a late surge for Barnette, Trump’s attacks reflected an eleventh-hour behind-the-scenes scramble by Trump allies and rival campaigns to discredit her. If elected, she would be the first Black Republican woman to serve in the Senate.

On Monday, the Oz campaign sent out a 90-second robocall to Republican voters featuring Trump urging them to vote for Oz and attacking McCormick and Barnette as “not candidates who put America First,” Trump’s label for his governing philosophy.

In addition to new attack ads targeting Barnette, she is being asked about a history of incendiary comments, which include disparaging Muslims and gays. She said her Islamophobic tweets were taken out of context.

She is also being asked whether she was involved in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol after participating in Trump’s “Stop the Steal” rally that day. She was not, she said.

“It’s confusing to understand Kathy Barnette. Every time she answers a question, she raises many more,” Oz said on the “Brian Kilmeade Show” on Fox News Radio.

Barnette, speaking to several dozen supporters at a Scranton hotel Monday evening, said her rivals are lying about her because she is winning.

“Do you really want to hear more smear attacks, more attacks, throwing people under the bus, using leftist-like tactics to try to destroy one of their own?” Barnette questioned.

McCormick, a decorated U.S. Army combat veteran who has strong connections to the party establishment going back to his service in President George W. Bush’s administration, has also been criticized repeatedly by Trump in the last two weeks.

Nevertheless, McCormick is closing the campaign by airing a TV ad showing a video clip of Trump in a private 2020 ceremony congratulating McCormick, saying “you’ve served our country well in so many different ways.”

“You know why he said that,” McCormick says in the TV ad. “Because it’s true. I risked my life for America and I’d do it again in a heartbeat. … I’m a pro-life, pro-gun, America First conservative and damn proud of it.”

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Follow AP for full coverage of the midterms at and on Twitter at

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Levy reported from Harrisburg, Pa. Follow Marc Levy on Twitter at

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Gophers make top four schools for prized recruit Jaxon Howard

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Gophers make top four schools for prized recruit Jaxon Howard

The Gophers football program made the top four options for prized in-state recruit Jaxon Howard on Monday.

The four-star prospect from Robbinsdale Cooper High School put Minnesota alongside Miami (Fla.), Louisiana State and Michigan. He plans to take official visits in June and make a decision in July.

“The past three years, I’ve been blessed to be offered by over 60 amazing colleges,” Howard wrote on social media. “I built genuine relationships with so many coaches and value all the time they have spent with me. After 41 unofficial visits and much prayer, I have narrowed my top four.”

RELATED: How Gophers are making case for Jaxon Howard’s commitment 

If Howard, the No. 1 recruit in the state of Minnesota, committed to Minnesota, he would be the second-highest rated pledge, behind only Minneapolis Washburn running back Jeff Jones, per 247sports.com’s composite rankings.

Howard, who could play tight end or defensive end in college, is listed at 6-foot-4 and 245 pounds; he is the son of Willie Howard, who played defensive end at Stanford and was drafted in the second round by the Vikings in 2001.

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Johnny Cueto joins the Chicago White Sox, adding another veteran to the pitching staff: ‘He messes up hitters’

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Johnny Cueto joins the Chicago White Sox, adding another veteran to the pitching staff: ‘He messes up hitters’

Joe Kelly saw how starting pitcher Johnny Cueto was progressing at Triple-A Charlotte while the Chicago White Sox reliever was on a rehab assignment.

He gave a positive review.

“Johnny Cueto looked good,” Kelly said last week. “Johnny’s a great dude. He messes up hitters with timing, multiple looks, leg kicks, slide steps. Johnny does it to try to get guys off balance and he’s a master at it. He was commanding all of his pitches for strikes.”

Cueto joined the Sox in Kansas City and started Monday’s game against the Royals at Kauffman Stadium after the team purchased his contract from Charlotte.

“He’s had a really impressive career,” Sox manager Tony La Russa said before the game. “He pitches with some style. … We’ve gone against him (when La Russa managed the St. Louis Cardinals) and he gives you this and he gives you that and then vice versa.”

The 36-year-old Cueto went 0-1 with a 5.17 ERA and 17 strikeouts in four starts with Charlotte after signing with the Sox as a minor-league free agent April 8.

“The road games were not his forte,” Kelly said, “just because the umpires — I’m not going to say they weren’t ready for Johnny, but when I watched him pitch with the automatic strike zone? Pfft. Good luck. He could dot.

“Some umpires give up on some of the ways his balls move, and they move a ton. So when he’s flipping pitches and they’re strikes in the strike zone but the umpire thinks it runs off, that might get him into trouble.

“But these guys up here, big-league umpires, they know that. They know Johnny, they know how it moves. He looks great. He’s definitely going to help us this year.”

Cueto is 135-97 with a 3.45 ERA in 330 appearances (329 starts) during a 14-year career with the Cincinnati Reds (2008-15), Royals (2015) and San Francisco Giants (2016-21).

The right-hander is a two-time All-Star (2014, 2016), finished second in National League Cy Young Award voting in 2014 and is 2-4 with a 4.54 ERA in eight career postseason starts. He made four starts in the 2015 postseason with the World Series champion Royals.

“I said hello to him and then I told him I still feel the effects of Game 5 in the 2015 (American League) Division Series,” Sox starter Dallas Keuchel said Monday. “He stuck it to us pretty good (when I was) with the (Houston) Astros and he got traded over to the Royals.”

Cueto allowed two runs on two hits and struck out eight in that playoff game on Oct. 14, 2015, a 7-2 Royals win.

“He’s one of the best to do it for over a decade,” Keuchel said, “and it’ll be nice to watch him on (our) side now.”

Cueto went 7-7 with a 4.08 ERA in 22 outings (21 starts) for the Giants in 2021.

Lucas Giolito was originally scheduled to pitch Monday, but he was placed on the COVID-19-related injured list Friday. Giolito began experiencing symptoms Wednesday.

“The good part of it is all the signs are looking up on (Giolito),” La Russa said. “He’ll pitch in the series, whether it’s (Tuesday) or make an adjustment for Wednesday. That’s the good news. We’re going to wait and see.”

La Russa said Dylan Cease will start the first game of Tuesday’s doubleheader. Game 2 is to be determined. Vince Velasquez and Keuchel are the probable Sox starters Wednesday and Thursday.

Cueto is expected to be a factor in the rotation going forward.

“We would be disappointed if he’s not,” La Russa said. “And we don’t expect to be disappointed. He’s done enough since he’s reported to Arizona (for extended spring training) and what he’s shown in Charlotte (that) we expect him to be helpful.”

In Monday’s corresponding roster move, the Sox optioned infielder Danny Mendick to Charlotte. Mendick is 5-for-23 (.217) with two doubles, one home run and three RBIs in 11 games during two stints with the Sox this season.

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