Estes Park Archives Program

This 1920 route map over the Continental Divide to Grand Lake was wishful thinking until late September. Photo courtesy Estes Park Archives

One hundred years ago this month, the battle brewing in Estes over granting of commercial licenses for transportation in Rocky Mountain National Park became an all-out war, pitting neighbor against neighbor and private citizens against their federal government, as powerful factions took to the lecture circuit to rail against the opposition and promote their views.

One year earlier, in 1919, the National Park Service had granted an exclusive contract to Roe Emery’s Rocky Mountain Parks Transportation Company (RMPTCo) for carrying visitors to and around Rocky Mountain National Park. This was a time when the bulk of tourists to Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park arrived in Colorado by train, before rental cars were an option.

Outlying hotels and lodges were used to providing for their customers’ every need, including transportation to and from downtown Estes Park and all sightseeing excursions. Because no fee was charged to enter the national park, money collected for group automobile tours to Bear Lake, for example, or the end of the not-yet-finished Fall River Road was essentially pure profit. The loss of this income, they feared, would lead to their demise.

Leading the charge against the perceived “monopoly” were prominent hoteliers Enos Mills, Clem Yore (of the short-lived Big Thompson Hotel, better known nationally for his dime-store westerns), and Alfred Lamborn (manager of the Stanley). Arguing for the perceived “uniform high standards, fixed timetables, and reliability” of a single transportation provider were the Denver Tourist Bureau, the RMPTCo itself, and, somewhat surprisingly, Abner Sprague of Sprague Lodge, whose dislike of Enos Mills may have driven him to the other side.

The Estes Park Archives will trace the origins of the 1920 “Car Wars” this Saturday, January 11, at a free one-hour program beginning at 1:00 p.m. in the “Ten Letters” meeting space at 240 Moraine Avenue. As an additional treat, Tom Hannah will resurrect a 1920 recipe for cream puffs, with attendees able to sample whether it stands the test of time.

The fight over ownership of the early roads in Rocky Mountain National Park resulted in threats, arrests, physical violence, the unscheduled departure of the first Rocky Mountain National Park superintendent, and court cases and legal battles which took a decade to resolve. Because inholdings and exclusive concessions are still features of Rocky Mountain National Park, the topic of what belongs in a national park is still relevant today. Everyone is cordially invited to participate, even first-time visitors, and no reservations are required. Please call 586-4889 for additional information or questions.

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