Rocky Mountain National Park

Center for the State of the Parks: Park Assessments

Published July 2002

View Full Report
(PDF, 578 KB, 36 pages)

Rocky Mountain National Parkstands as a prominent reminder of the natural, historical, and cultural potential of the National Park System. This park’s beautiful but rugged and unforgiving landscapes harbor hundreds of high-elevation plant and animal species—some that are increasingly rare outside the park or found nowhere else. Some of the park’s human-made structures bespeak the boom-and-bust cycles and never-ending search for adequate water supplies that characterized the nation’s westward expansion.

As is true of most national parks, Rocky Mountain faces pressures that threaten to diminish its splendor and importance to posterity. This report documents many of those pressures and recommends measures to improve natural and cultural resource conditions as well as the park’s stewardship capacity. The report is the third in a series of four assessments issued during the test phase of the State of the Parks program.

The assessment of Rocky Mountain National Park concluded that on a scale of 0 to 100, the condition of the park’s known natural resources rates 75. Among the findings:

The condition of the park’s known cultural resources rates 67. Among the findings:

  • The park lacks resource studies of historic structures and major historical themes—mining, ranching, and resorts, which hinders the park’s interpretive services and the staff’s ability to protect historic resources.
  • The park needs a completed ethnographic overview and assessment.
  • Only one of the park’s 15 identified cultural landscapes has been thoroughly documented.
  • The park lacks scientific information from excavations, which severely limits management and interpretation of prehistoric archaeological sites.
  • If funding is not approved for additional space, the park will not have adequate storage for museum collections and archival materials.
  • The park’s American Indian and Euro American oral history program needs to be completed.

The park’s stewardship capacity—the ability of Rocky Mountain staff to protect resources in the park—rates 77. The park is somewhat underfunded, but congressional support for the federal Natural Resource Challenge has supplied money for research and resource management activities. Additional funds have been secured from the Recreation Fee Demonstration Program. The park also enjoys outstanding local support through volunteers, partnerships, and work with the adjacent community of Estes Park to address resource issues of common concern. However, the park’s Master Plan is 26 years old, and the park lacks specific resource management plans that would guide resource protection and allocation of funding and staffing.

Recommendations

Among the recommendations targeted to improve resource conditions and stewardship:

  • Secure the resources needed to develop an elk and vegetation management plan as soon as possible and accelerate the planning process.
  • Conduct studies of key vertebrate populations.
  • Develop a park policy for managing the effects of chronic wasting disease.
  • Expand funding and support for strategic planning to address wildfire hazards on a geographic basis, both within and outside the park.
  • Secure funding and expand support for more research and monitoring sites, such as those in PRIMENet (Park Research and Intensive Monitoring of Ecosystems Network), in the western United States to ensure vital long-term monitoring of air quality in sensitive, high-elevation ecosystems.
  • Complete historic resource studies.
  • Finish the park’s ethnographic overview and assessment and use the resulting information.
  • Document the 15 identified cultural landscapes.
  • Add to museum storage facilities.
  • Complete National Register of Historic Places documentation and condition reports for historic structures.
  • Transcribe and preserve oral history tapes.
  • Increase law enforcement efforts to eliminate the looting of artifacts and vandalism at archaeological sites.
  • Update the park’s 1976 Master Plan, providing appropriate guidance for the park’s current and future challenges.

To accomplish these and other important tasks, increased funding and staffing are essential. The recommendations, if implemented, will help to ensure that Rocky Mountain National Park remains a vibrant part of our natural, cultural, and historical legacy.

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