At Colorado Mountain School, we are incredibly fortunate to live and work in one of the most prestigious national parks in the country. Rocky Mountain National Park is iconic in its landscape, history and legislation, and has a unique story to share.
Here at CMS, we are excited to bring that story to life and encourage you to take some time to get to know your local park. In addition, we’ve identified a few ways to get involved, as well as listed ways in which you can make a lasting impact to preserve the beauty and integrity of our Rocky Mountain National Park for years to come.
The Utes dominated this area until the late 1700s. At the turn of the century, however, the land was acquired by the federal government as a result of the Louisiana Purchase of 1803 and was soon flooded with European fur trappers.
The Pikes Peak gold rush of 1859 drew hopeful miners to the area, but the inhospitable landscape and climate proved difficult to eke out a living. The precious metal was first discovered in current-day Idaho Springs and Central City / Blackhawk, but numerous explorers were discouraged by the tough conditions.
But, the secret was out, and settlers were coming West by the hundreds. By 1900, the growing national conservation and preservation movement was in full force, buoyed by advocates such as Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir (among others).
In 1909, Enos Mills championed the creation of the nation’s 10th national park, and President Woodrow Wilson signed the Rocky Mountain National Park Act in 1915.
Unlike other parks, RMNP was never train-accessible, so building roads became of paramount priority. As a result of the Great Depression, FDR created the Civilian Conservation Corps, which resulted in numerous roads, trails, and buildings.
With increased accessibility, numerous explorers (such as Major Stephen Long) set off on expeditions throughout the region, partaking in famous journeys that shaped the future of the park. Long’s Peak now pays tribute to the Major’s famous expedition and is sought out as one of the most iconic ascents in the park.
After WW2, Congress approved the Mission 66 program, which further pushed for new and improved campgrounds, facilities, and parking lots, among other amenities. The sudden boom in tourists and visitors to the park led to environmental hazards, ecosystem challenges, and threats to elk/wildlife population, but new environmental laws passed in the 1960s-70s changed the protocol for crowd management.
Visitors are now educated through talks, seminars, signage, and with the additional support/reinforcement of park rangers.
The Wilderness Act of 1964 was a pivotal piece of legislation that forever altered the protection and scope of our designated wilderness areas nationwide. By definition, “wilderness” is an “area of the Earth and its community of life that is untrammeled by man, and where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”
The goal of this legislation was “to establish a National Wilderness Preservation System for the good of the people, and for other purposes.” Other benefits to this act include the provision of habitat for wildlife and threatened species, protection of the watershed and clean water supply, and filtration of the air we breathe. In addition, local economies suddenly boosted with tourism / recreation dollars, and people were provided with outstanding places to recreate and escape modern life.
Written by the Wilderness Society’s Howard Zahniser, this act protects over 110 million acres of wilderness from coast to coast. More than 750 wilderness areas are protected by this legislation, and areas of wilderness are protected in all but six states.
After eight years (since the initial draft) and 66 revisions, President Lyndon B Johnson officially signed the law on September 3, 1964.
Other important figures that helped shape this legislation were Bob Marshall (principle founder of the Wilderness Act), Harvey Broome (Smoky Mountain enthusiast and president of the Wilderness Society), and Aldo Leopold (Co-Founder of the Wilderness Society).
Since the inception of this groundbreaking environmental legislation, our population has increased, tourism has exploded, and our consumption/waste management must be addressed. We’ve been handed the responsibility to preserve and protect these sacred spaces for future generations. Our predecessors recognized the need to preserve nature, and it’s up to us to carry on that legacy and sense of respect in the years to come.
There are numerous ways to contribute to your local park. RMNP identifies a few ways you can get involved.
First, you can join the 1,700 other volunteers and donate your time and service to maintaining the park. Volunteers support all aspects of park operations and are integral to keeping RMNP maintained and well-groomed. More information on the volunteer program can be found here.
If time is in short supply, you can donate to the Rocky Mountain Conservancy, an organization that helps in land acquisition, capital construction, restoration/ development of exhibits, construction of trails, and wheelchair-accessible pathways.
Leave No Trace
While foot traffic, donations and tourists are essential to RMNP’s life, it’s important to remember that exiting the park is almost as significant as coming to visit in the first place. Learning to tread lightly, reduce waste and follow the Leave No Trace policies are essential skills encouraged by both CMS and RMNP staff.
There are seven steps within the Leave No Trace policy:
- Plan Ahead and Prepare
- Know regulations / special concerns of the area
- Prepare for extreme hazards, unpredictable weather and emergencies
- Schedule your trip to avoid high use
- Repack food waste
- Use a map to avoid trail marking, building cairns or placing flags
- Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
- Including trails, campsites, rock, gravel, dry grass and snow
- Camp at least 200ft. from lakes and rivers
- Dispose of Waste Properly
- Pack it in, pack it out. Take all trash, litter, leftover food, etc.. with you
- Deposit solid human waste in cat holes 6-8in deep, at least 200ft from camp and trails
- Pack out toilet paper and hygiene products
- For washing clothes, be sure to use biodegradable soap
- Leave What You Find
- Preserve the past: examine but do not touch
- Avoid introducing or transporting non-native species
- Do not build structures, furniture or dig trenches
- Minimize Campfire Impacts
- Use lightweight stove for cooking and use candlelight
- Where fires are permitted, use fire pans, rings and mound fires
- Keep fires small
- Burn wood and coals to ash, put out campfires completely
- Respect Wildlife
- Observe wildlife from a distance- don’t follow or approach
- Never feed animals
- Protect wildlife and food by storing rations and trash securely
- Control pets at all times
- Avoid wildlife during sensitive times- mating, nesting, winter
- Be Considerate of Other Visitors
- Respect other visitors and protect the quality of experience
- Be courteous
- Step to the downhill side of trails
- Take breaks and camp away from trails and other visitors
- Avoid loud voices and noises
Learn More at LNT.org.