Colorado’s Gift To The Nation
By: Vaughn Baker Rocky Mountain National Park Superintendent
In 2010, Rocky Mountain National Park will celebrate its 95th birthday. On January 26, 1915, President Woodrow Wilson signed the act establishing Rocky Mountain National Park. This culminated an effort by many in Colorado and elsewhere to set aside a scenic portion of the southern Rockies for the enjoyment of present and future generations.
In establishing the park, Congress directed that the park be “dedicated and set apart as a public park for the benefit and enjoyment of the people of the United States.” Further, Congress directed that the park be managed for “the freest use….for recreation purposes by the public and for the preservation of the natural conditions and scenic beauties…”
A year later in 1916, Congress established the National Park System and the National Park Service to manage the new system.
Since that time, Rocky Mountain National Park has evolved into one of Colorado’s major tourist destinations with people from all over the United States and the world coming to explore this scenic wonderland. Whether driving over Trail Ridge Road or hiking a trail in the park’s wilderness, people come to partake of what the park has to offer. Mountain scenery, alpine tundra, wildlife, clean air and water, recreation and solitude are all things that people seek when they visit the park.
More recently, President Obama signed legislation providing additional protection by designating most of the park’s backcountry as wilderness.
Park staff joined the gateway communities of Grand Lake and Estes Park in welcoming the passage by the Congress of the wilderness designation for the park’s backcountry. This was the culmination of an effort that began in 1974 and was jump started in recent years through the efforts of many including the gateway communities. In recognition of their communities’ efforts and support, the mayors of Grand Lake and Estes Park were invited to attend the bill signing ceremony on March 30, 2009 at the White House.
We at Rocky are blessed to have a great staff, tremendous volunteers, and the strong support of our local communities as well as park visitors near and far. This past year, 1,600 people donated some 106,000 hours to the park doing a variety of tasks from cleaning ditches to giving educational programs.
In response to concerns that today’s young people are not getting connected to parks and the outdoors, our long time partner, the Rocky Mountain Nature Association, has established the Next Generation Fund. The Fund will endow youth educational programs such as Junior Ranger and environmental education, so that today’s youth can become the park stewards of tomorrow.
As we approach a new century for Rocky Mountain National Park, we will face many challenges ranging from the aftermath of the mountain pine beetle outbreak, nitrogen deposition in the high alpine lakes, an aging infrastructure, and the prospect of some 4 to 5 million people on our front door step.
The National Park Service is committed to preserving this gem of the Rockies so that our grandchildren and their grandchildren may experience the park much as we do today. By doing this, we honor the foresight of those early Coloradoans who persuaded the Congress to act in 1915 and the efforts of those who persuaded Congress to again act in 2009 to preserve this special place for future generations.
I invite you to come and explore your backyard national park and wilderness area.