We all know first-hand the kind of stress that millions of visitors put on park infrastructure. Beyond the unmatched work and dedication of Park Rangers and Park Staff, how do our National Parks and public lands keep up with the demands of maintenance and the ultimate framework for safe and enjoyable recreation? Unsuspecting figures that don't don a stetson hat, uniform, or badge are often the driving force of impact projects that support our favorite national treasures. Wild Tribute's partnership with Rocky Mountain Conservancy this past year highlights just that - the magic of superhero volunteers working in parallel to a coalition of agency officials.
Despite a season that was cut short by a government shutdown, Rocky Mountain National Park reported a record number of visitors in 2019. Over 4.5 million people made the journey to Colorado to enjoy the majestic peaks, lush pine forests, secluded tundra, and alpine meadows that this expansive park has to offer. At 266,000 acres, it’s already a gigantic responsibility to uphold the established infrastructure inside park boundaries and over into the adjacent National Forests, but when you put millions of hungry adventurers to task on those grounds it’s going to take some extra effort to maintain the delicate balance that keeps these lands pure. The Rocky Mountain Conservancy, along with the National Park Service and the US Forest Service, work together each year to utilize AmeriCorps volunteers that form the Conservation Corps; this is a group of young, dedicated, and outdoor-minded individuals that not only put their time towards the greater good but also their fair share of blood, sweat, and tears. Just the kind of folks that we at Wild Tribute are more than happy to support.
Within the boundaries of Rocky Mountain National Park are 4 separate ecosystems and over 100 mountain peaks that rise above the 11,000’ mark. This stretch of the Rocky Mountains is considered the backbone of our Continental Divide, with breathtaking vistas accessible by car, by horseback, or by our preferred mode of transportation: foot. For each of these chosen modes of travel, we all rely heavily on the maintenance and upkeep of valuable resources that are managed by the National Park Service and the US Forest Service. These resources, and the responsibilities they create, need a group of dedicated and passionate professionals like the Rocky Mountain Conservancy in order to function properly from year to year. The Conservation Corps provides a unique experience for young adults, especially those interested in natural resource conservation, biology, natural history, and environmental science. For eleven weeks, crews work side by side with Rocky Mountain National Park and Arapaho-Roosevelt National Forest crews constructing and maintaining trails, restoring historic buildings, and learning from expert NPS and USFS land managers. It’s a life changing combination for these young and hungry individuals, and we’re happy to play a part in this program.
In 2019, 33 volunteers carried out a wide variety of tasks that covered the expanse of Rocky Mountain National Park, as well as the adjacent National Forests. To keep the foot trail system available for us to enjoy, the Conservation Corps maintained over 137 miles of path by removing 846 downed trees, constructing 127 check steps, installing or clearing more than 2200 drainage structures, and repairing 4 backcountry stream crossings. They restored over a dozen historic buildings including ranger cabins, ranch facilities, and even a park entrance. The camp sites that the 2019 multitudes enjoyed also benefitted from their efforts by getting drainage upgrades as well as comfort facility improvements. As if that wasn’t enough, the Conservation Corps also completed educational, career, and leadership development activities during their summer in the park. Did we mention that these herculean efforts occurred in only 11 weeks?
Talk about a labor of love. From the dedication of the Rocky Mountain Conservancy to the commitment of their counterparts at the National Park Service and the US Forest Service, the Conservation Corps program pays us all back in too many ways to count. The benefits for the park are quite obvious, and the returns for the young women and men of the program are both immediate and long term. For our part, we’ve been over and through that park numerous times. We’ve had the rush of driving from Grand Lake to Estes Park on Trail Ridge Road; we’ve summited the 14,259’ Longs Peak through the Keyhole Route; we’ve had encounters with elk, bear, and big horn sheep. But we can state honestly and without question that our best adventures in Rocky Mountain National Park pale in comparison to the values, skills, and experiences that come with immersing yourself for 11 weeks in that unique environment. We probably won’t ever get a chance to meet these team members to shake their hands and thank them in person, but we know we’ll get to test out their handywork in the near future. And for that we’ll be forever grateful.
The Rocky Mountain Conservancy provides services, educational experiences, and materials to enhance Rocky Mountain National Park and surrounding public lands for all park visitors.