Rocky Mountain
Administrative History
NPS Logo


The question of jurisdiction over the roads in Rocky Mountain National Park lay unresolved for more than a decade after the Park was created in 1915. Colorado had retained jurisdiction so that it could complete the construction of the Fall River Road, but there had been much subsequent litigation over questions of control, as described above. Understandably federal officials became a bit sensitive on the failure of the state to cede jurisdiction, as it had indicated it would as early as 1913. In December of 1926, Interior Department officials warned that $199,000 in appropriations for Rocky Mountain National Park might be forfeited by the state if jurisdiction were not ceded. National Park Service officials further cautioned that future appropriations for road work totaling $500,000 might instead be switched to Yosemite National Park. [1]

When Superintendent Roger Toll returned to Colorado in December, 1926, from a visit to Washington, he commented on the mood of Congress:

The appropriation committee . . . took the attitude that, if the state really wanted jurisdiction, it was welcome to it . . . but that the obligation of building and maintaining park roads should also be assumed. The government does not intend to enter controversy or litigation with the state, but if the state wishes to cede jurisdiction, the government will accept it and assume obligation for road development. [2]

The Rocky Mountain News had earlier quoted Interior Department officials as saying that such a transfer of jurisdiction would in no way disturb the rights of any property owners within the borders of the Park. Rather, the cession would simplify the administration of the Park's rules and would probably prevent a recurrence of a controversy similar to that over the transportation concession. [3]

Working toward that end, late in 1926 James Grafton Rogers drafted a bill for the Colorado legislature to cede jurisdiction of roads in both Rocky Mountain and Mesa Verde National Parks to the federal government. The bill was the result of several years of study by Denver Chamber of Commerce officials. It reserved to the state only the right to serve civil and criminal processes and to tax individuals and corporations within the two parks. Furthermore, Park residents would retain the right to vote in state elections. [4] The Rogers' bill was introduced in the Colorado State House of Representatives in January, 1927, by Representatives Edward C. King, F. W. Flebbe, R. W. Calkins, and E. W. Newland, and in the Senate by Senator I. L. Quiat. Initial action was taken by the House when the bill was referred to the Committee on Federal Relations.

Meanwhile, opposition to the measure was evidenced in northern Colorado. There, some people feared their water rights would be endangered; others believed that an exorbitant entrance fee would immediately be charged. Those owning land within the Park worried lest the government claim their property. Still others argued that the ceding of jurisdiction would constitute federal encroachment on state's rights. Of those groups opposing the cession, the mining representatives were at first the most vocal. [5]

M. M. Tomblin, secretary of the Colorado Mining Association, warned that passage of the House bill

would mean eventual confiscation of all private property within the boundaries of the Park, since it will be possible for the management to make rules and regulations as will make valueless any private property included in this area. [6]

In an address given on January 27, to the annual convention of that association in Denver, John R. Wolff, President of the Boulder County Metal Mining Association, called the federal government's threat to cut off appropriations

truly a disguised offer of a bribe to the State to sell its sovereignty and control over transportation arteries from the eastern slope to the western slope of the state for the considerations. [7]

Elsewhere in Colorado, the state legislature's consideration of the bill was complicated by rumors of an impending boundary extension in Rocky Mountain National Park. According to hearsay, the boundary change would encompass 60,000 acres of Forest Service land extending from Mount Audubon south to the Arapahoe peaks. [8] Representatives of miners and stockmen wanted the Forest Service to retain control over the area, since that bureau encouraged private development within the forest reserves.

The bill's opponents also claimed that its adoption would "spell the death" of a major water diversion project planned for lands that would presumably be included in the Park addition. The project was to divert water from the Grand River on the western slope to the eastern slope. Planners predicted that the project would be capable of developing 200,000 kilowatts of electric power and one-half million acre feet of water. In all, it would cost from $10,000,000 to $15,000,000.

John R. Wolff, a major opponent of the bill, warned that if the boundary extension was realized,

not an irrigation project will be permitted to be developed within it, not a power line from the eastern to the western slope may be run across it, not a single one of its resources . . . may ever be put to beneficial use for the people of this state. [9]

Not all commentators, however, opposed the bill. Joe Mills, proprietor of the Craggs Hotel in Estes Park and a resident of Boulder, spoke in its favor. He believed that the bill would make available government resources to develop roads in an area where the state could not finance them "for fifty years, if ever." Mills showed an awareness of the profit to be made from government management of scenery, something overlooked by the mining and cattle associations. He warned that the Estes Park Chamber of Commerce, hotel men and other property owners within the Park resented the effort made by organizations centered in Boulder to defeat the bill. [10]

When James Grafton Rogers returned to Colorado from Washington in February, he cautioned opponents of the bill that members of the National Park Service Commission were becoming impatient at Colorado's "tardiness" in ceding jurisdiction. [11] Indeed, Congressman Louis Cramton, chairman of the Interior Department appropriations sub-committee, threatened to abolish the Park, if jurisdiction were not ceded. Senator Laurence C. Phipps and Congressman Edward T. Taylor stated that it would be "a serious blunder" and "very foolish" if the Colorado legislature failed to pass the cession bill. [12]

Opponents of state cession ignored, or were unaware of, the fact that the ceding of jurisdiction over certain tracts of land by the state to the federal government was not unknown in Colorado. At various times, the state legislature had approved bills for ceding state land used by the federal government for post offices, court houses, army posts, arsenals, and Indian schools. But the part of the pending cession bill that especially frightened some Coloradans was the stipulation that Colorado cede jurisdiction "over and within all the territory which is now or may hereafter be included in the Rocky Mountain and Mesa Verde National Park."

Moreover, residents or owners of the many farms, cities and industries lying along streams that had their headwaters in Rocky Mountain Park, feared that cession might affect them adversely. The Boulder News-Herald reflected the fears of many such citizens when it asked:

Who can say the time will not come that Boulder, Longmont, Loveland, Fort Collins, and other cities may not imperatively need territory in the Park in order to have an adequate water supply? Who can say that agricultural development may not need and sorely require irrigation and ditch rights? [13]

Other residents of these same valley towns became concerned that their lucrative positions at the "Gateway to the Park" would somehow be endangered by federal regulation. C. D. Brumley of Boulder prophesid that if Fall River Road were ceded, "traffic would be diverted via Denver and Idaho Springs over the non-fee Berthoud Pass route to the detriment of all northern Colorado." [14] It was not surprising that the furor raised over the cede jurisdiction question was compared with earlier debates on free silver.

Editor Arthur Parkhurst of the Boulder News-Herald recoiled in anger from what he considered intimidation by the federal government:

This State does not surrender to threats. We believe it wrong and dangerous to principle for Colorado to cede jurisdiction . . . . Colorado must protect itself for the future . . . It would be unwise and foolish to let a monopoly-granting, fee-charging Federal Bureau like the National Park Service become the absolute czar of State-built, State-owned roads leading to and through the Rocky Mountain National Park. Abolish the Park if you wish! A rose by any other name will smell as sweet! Czaristic Federal encroachment on the rights and property of States must stop! [15]

R. J. Ball, editor of the Loveland Reporter-Herald and President of Colorado Editorial Association, supported "the old-fashioned idea" that Colorado would be better off without the federal government's control of any land in the state. "Surely," he declared,

this State is capable of managing its property for the best interests of the public at large and its citizens in particular without placing it in the hands of bureaus and commissions at Washington whose personnel have little if any knowledge of what is best for the best interests of our citizens. [16]

The call to defend "states-rights" was echoed in the Boulder News-Herald of February 5, 1927. This opposition paper ended in a typical emotional,

The showdown has come. . . . If Colorado surrenders, Federal bureaucracy will be supreme over a reasonable, righteous doctrine of State sovereignty. [17]

The News-Herald predicted:

It will soon be known of what stuff the present Colorado legislature is made. God help Colorado if a majority of the members of the Legislature show themselves to be a bunch of cowards without common sense and courage enough to stand firmly for the just rights of this State! [18]

While the News-Herald appealed to God, the Sterling Advocate preferred to call on a local deity.

In a year when Colorado's highway funds are skimpy the Federal government dangles before the State a plum—or should it be likened to the apple that Father Adam relishes to his sorrow? . . . What would Enos Mills say, were he here to raise his voice? [19]

16. Editorial in the Loveland Reporter-Herald quoted in The Boulder News-Herald February 5, 1927.

Such vehemence was bound to bring about a like reaction from supporters of cession. While The (Boulder) Daily Camera mildly wondered "if we are not given more to prejudice than to reason," [20] Congressman Cramton reacted as a man influenced by shock and disgust. He characterized the people living near the Park as having, "the most unfriendly, unappreciative, unhelpful public sentiment that has ever surrounded any national park." To him, the self-styled champions of states-rights were merely "trouble-makers trying to monopolize the spotlight." [21]

What should have been a rational debate was degenerating into raucous name-calling. The Colorado delegation in Washington interjected into this statewide argument a calm but firmly worded appeal. In early February Senators Phipps and Means, and Congressmen Vaile, Timberlake, Hardy and Taylor sent Governor William Adams a message which stated:

We have watched situation in congress for several years and have positive information that if jurisdiction is ceded, congress . . . will authorize expenditure of additional $1,435,000 for roads in Rocky Mountain National park during next few years.

Please note that . . . maintenance appropriation for next year is $97,000, which is largest in its history, and Mesa Verde will receive $50,750.

Withdrawal of maintenance appropriations will, therefore, mean practical abolition of national parks in Colorado.

All states containing the principal national parks except ours have ceded jurisdiction thru legislative act including California, Wyoming, Washington and Montana, while in no other case does state assert or claim jurisdiction over the roads.

We believe it to be extremely advantageous and entirely safe for Colorado to take similar action. [22]

On February 18, after a public hearing, the Colorado House Committee on Federal Relations reported out the cession bill bound with the shackles of an amendment drawn by the Colorado Mining Association. This "Colorado-protecting amendment" read:

the State of Colorado reserves for its citizens the free and uninterrupted use of all public highways now or hereafter constructed within said Park, or any extension thereof, or other valid locations within said boundaries, may have free entrance to or egress from their property which shall remain under the jurisdiction of the State of Colorado, the development, the use or enjoyment of which shall in no way be abridged by the Act. [23]

The Boulder News-Herald hailed the insertion of this amendment as a victory for the opponents of the cession. [24]

Two days later, the Rocky Mountain News predicted that if the bill passed the House it would surely meet bitter opposition in the Senate. The newspaper believed that senate approval depended upon the adoption of amendments that would limit federal jurisdiction. [25] On February 23, the Denver Post stated that "the national parks fight had started . . . in earnest," since the House and Senate Federal Relations Committee had met in joint session and held a public hearing on the controversial bill. To persuade uncommitted legislators, citizens of Loveland perfected plans to parade in front of the capital bearing signs that read, "Kill park bill. Save our water." [26] Meanwhile, for "three stormy hours," proponents and opponents "rolled up their sleeves, polished their vocabularies and unlimbered their heavy oratorical artillery before the joint meeting." [27] Representatives of northern Colorado towns, including Berthoud, Loveland, Longmont and Boulder opposed the bill through the testimony of their spokesman Reid Williams, city attorney of Loveland. On the other side were delegations from the Chambers of Commerce of Denver and Estes Park led by James Grafton Rogers.

The next day, February 24, the House discouraged the bill's supporters by voting the bill back into committee, not the Federal Relations Committee that originally had control of the bill, but the Committee on Roads and Bridges. The quick legislative approval of this maneuver indicated to the Denver Post that the group steering the bill was following a carefully prepared plan. [28] The motion carried by a voice vote of 35 to 25. A few observers deemed it improbable that the nine members of the Committee on Roads and Bridges were known to be against ceding jurisdiction.

This turn of events especially disturbed those who had worked longest to accomplish cession. Rogers recalled that originally Secretary of the Interior Lane had refused to approve the creation of the Park until the state legislature ceded jurisdiction. The Secretary subsequently relented when Rogers and his Colorado Mountain Club pledged to carry on a decade of active lobbying for the cession. [29] Another pledge interested workers on both sides of the issue, for on April 23, 1913 the Colorado State Senate, in its campaign for a national park had sent the following resolution to President Woodrow Wilson:

We therefore urge that you pass an act creating the said Rocky Mountain National Park, adopting the metes and bounds as set forth in the report of said Chief Geographer Marshall to the secretary of the interior, and embodying provisions as contained in a bill . . . and hereby declare the willingness of the state of Colorado upon the passage of a congressional act establishing said park, to cede jurisdiction in the manner customary in such cases. [30]

During the 1927 debate over cession, several opponents raised serious questions about this "pledge." Were the people of Colorado bound by a promise made fourteen years earlier? Indeed was it within the power of that assembly even to issue such a resolution? Mrs. Enos Mills, for one, challenged the binding force of the resolution. She claimed, "The resolution of 1913 expressed the sentiment of the legislature at that time, a sentiment which was not now shared by the people of Colorado ...." [31]

In favor of fulfilling the pledge, twenty-three civic leaders of Denver revived the memory of the Great War in their cause. They sent a telegram to Governor Adams in which they questioned:

Have we forgotten that a few years ago the whole civilized world flamed with anger because Germany said a national agreement was only a 'scrap of paper'? [32]

The Boulder News-Herald contended that the state never had been bound by the promises of individual legislators. It termed the argument in favor of the pledge nothing more than "sentimental bunk." [33]

By March the Colorado legislative hesitation over cession was becoming acutely embarrassing to the state's delegation in Washington. Congressman Taylor, after conferring with Representative Cramton, reported that all construction on Fall River Road would be held up. Appropriation acts of the past two years carried no limitations only because of promises made by Governor Morley and Attorney-General Boatright that jurisdiction would soon be ceded. The embittered Taylor concluded:

It seems to me this delay puts the state in a very humiliating position in the eyes of official Washington. If they do not want the park they ought to memorialize congress to abolish it and decline all further federal funds. [34]

Dr. Hubert Work, Secretary of the Interior and a native Coloradan, agreed in general with Taylor. In a speech before both houses of the state legislature on March 19 he threatened to close the Fall River Road if the cession were not granted. He appeared ready to wash his hands of the matter. "If the state doesn't want the park enough to fulfill its promise to cede the control," he told the legislators, "let it all go back to what it was before and let's forget it." [35]

The Denver papers, which had tended to be neutral in the jurisdictional debate, then moved closer to outright support for the bill. The Rocky Mountain News took vigorous issue with the bill's opponents. It labeled as "ridiculous" claims of mining resources in the Park. With respect to irrigation, the News pointed out that "every bit of water" in the area was appropriated long before the Park was created. Thus there was no new water to claim. Furthermore, reservoirs could be built outside the mountains at far less cost than within the mountain area. [36]

By mid-month, the House bill was reported out by the Committee on Roads and Bridges. House members then voted to add two amendments to the bill, one reserving to the citizens of the state the free use of all roads, and the other specifying that jurisdiction should not become effective until the citizens of the state were given the right to construct irrigation works in the Park. With these two amendments the bill passed the House on second reading on March 19, and the third reading a day later. [37]

On April 8 the Senate passed the original bill on second reading, adding only the irrigation amendment. The next day, the Senate passed the bill on third reading. The House declined to concur on the revised bill, so a joint committee was appointed which finally reported in favor of ceding jurisdiction over Mesa Verde, but took no action respecting Rocky Mountain National Park. In the closing hours of the legislative session this report was accepted by both houses and the bill was accordingly passed. [38]

Congressman Cramton later prophesied from Washington that, "the first pinch . . . will be felt when the government fails to go thru with a $500,000 road project in the area." [39] Indeed, by the coming of the new year the "pinch" was to prove irritating in neighboring Fort Collins. The local newspaper complained that because of the funds withheld, "it is high time Colorado came to its senses . . . . The whole controversy results from misunderstandings and bullheadedness." [40] Whatever the causes for the controversy, it was true that the monetary loss to Colorado would be great. Approximately $500,000 originally appropriated for road construction in Rocky Mountain National Park was divided among eighteen other national parks. Then, too, a five-year road-building program for the state, calling for an expenditure of $1,237,500 was tentatively abandoned. According to Superintendent Toll, plans were suspended for constructing or reconstructing forty miles of highway and about ninety miles of trails in the Park. Even the hope of future appropriations for the Park was dimmed by the unforgiving attitude of Congressman Cramton. "As long as I have something to do with appropriations for national parks," he declared, "I will not sanction the expenditure of federal funds on national park highways over which the authority of the government is disputed." [41]

By the early spring of 1928, economics had partially begun to crowd out politics in Colorado as the predominant consideration in the controversy. The Rocky Mountain News studied Denver's economic pulse and reported that "it is high time for Denver's business interests to take a hand and tell politicians and obstructionists where to get off." [42] By September the News further warned that "a way out must be found between now and January. The deadlock is bad for Denver from a business point of view." [43] Perhaps answering this call, the Colorado Kiwanis Club adopted a resolution in favor of the cession on October 2, and soon after the Denver Chamber of Commerce intensified its activities for the bill through its Civic and Legislative Council.

In early December the News again brought up the economic advantages of the cession. "On a straight business basis," it believed the Park was more valuable for its "tourist crop" than agricultural products. The News reasoned, "the tourist crop is perennial, and does not wear out the soil," [44] By December 24, the paper could report that businessmen's clubs of Denver were lining up behind the Kiwanis Club for the ceding of jurisdiction. Also, the Round Table, an organization of presidents of businessmen's service clubs, had decided to endorse the measure. [45]

While Denver moved to support the cession, sections of northern Colorado remained adamantly opposed to the proposition. In July 1928, both the Boulder County Republican and Democratic Assemblies officially commended the 1927 state legislature for its refusal to cede jurisdiction. On September 30, an organization of water users was formed to lobby against the cession. Representatives from Fort Morgan, Brush, Greeley, Fort Collins, Loveland, and Johnstown were present at the first meeting held at the Loveland City Hall. [46] When the Greeley Chamber of Commerce held a mock trial over the ceding of jurisdiction, half of the jury refused even to vote on a verdict. [47] The Boulder Camera predicted that the upcoming legislative fight over jurisdiction "promises to be a lively scrap." [48]

As state legislators prepared for the 1929 session, late endorsements for the cession came from such diverse groups as the Moffat Tunnel League, the Denver Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, the Colorado Women's Service Club, and the Englewood, Colorado, Chamber of Commerce. On January 4, the Rocky Mountain News advised the legislators, "there's no sense in Colorado seeking to fight Uncle Sam—it's like butting the head against a stone wall." [49]

Advice both helpful and ominous also came from Washington. Senator Phipps informed the 27th General Assembly that a federal appropriation of $457,000 for highways and maintenance in the park was certain if jurisdiction was ceded by March 3. Congressman Cramton, chairman of the sub-committee on Interior Department appropriations, meanwhile warned of the consequences if the March 3 deadline were not met. He said, "failure to cede jurisdiction will not end the park as a national playground but it will end all appropriations indefinitely." [50]

On January 10, 1929 House Bill No. 44 to cede jurisdiction was introduced in the state legislature by Representatives William C. Burchfield of Denver (Republican), Edwin C. Johnson of Craig (Democrat), and James H. Beggs of Keenesburg, Weld County (Republican). The House Committee on Federal Relations, to which the bill was sent, held public hearings on January 29 and 30. After listening to more than twenty witnesses repeat the arguments previously advanced for and against the cession, the committee members set off on a visit to Estes Park to "see the situation on the ground." [51]

The new House bill met many of the opposition's old objections. It restricted the Park boundaries to their existing limits; it permitted a change of the boundary to permit the building of a forest road through Allenspark; and it guaranteed existing water rights. Still, opposition persisted from the Boulder Livestock Growers Association, and the Boulder News-Herald remained defiant. The Denver Chamber of Commerce thought the situation was serious enough to warrant its sending of "an urgent request" to the Colorado congressional delegation for assistance. The Boulder Camera sought to remind its subscribers:

We are living in a different age than that in which Enos Mills conceived the idea of a national park and the people of this region should adjust themselves to it . . . NOW. [52]

And later:

Since the legislature is about to vote what the government asks . . . we fail to discover any good reason why Boulder county, almost alone, should continue to oppose it, Why not get in the bandwagon and ride? Why be always opposing something? [53]

It was becoming increasingly evident, however, that the opposition to the bill was to be found mainly, if not only, in Boulder. As far back as December of 1928, Roy Ray, the editor of the Poudre Valley and a militant foe of the ceding measure, worried that "it is not an easy matter for citizens of the rest of the state to reach any definite conclusion." [54]

Supporters of the bill became ever more confident, while those who had fought so long against it fatalistically predicted its passage. Then the ease with which the bill passed the House surprised even its more optimistic proponents. [55] It was approved on February 7, on second reading without argument and without a dissenting vote. Furthermore, the awaited "last stand" of the die-hards never developed, as the bill passed the next day on third reading by a vote of 54 to 7. [56]

The House included a short amendment protecting all vested water rights within the Park area and all canals and ditches already constructed. Some opposition developed among state senators who questioned whether future water needs would be satisfied by this amendment, For instance, they wondered if the government would allow the future diversion of water from the western slope to the eastern slope, particularly if the diversion required the building of tunnels and canals across Park limits. While the Denver Post predicted "a bitter fight" in the Senate, [57] the Boulder News-Herald foresaw that the bill would pass by an overwhelming vote. [58]

In the Senate the bill was referred to the Committee on State Affairs and Public Lands. Following a public hearing this committee reported the bill favorably. The bill passed its third and final reading on February 15 "without a word of debate" and with only one dissenting vote. [59] Governor William Adams promptly signed the bill on February 16. His action was followed by the introduction of a bill in Congress (through Congressman Edward T. Taylor) to accept the Colorado cession. The bill passed both houses and was signed by President Calvin Coolidge in one of his last official acts on March 2, 1929. Thus the cede jurisdiction controversy was finally settled.

Almost at the same time, Horace M. Albright, National Park Service chief, announced that Rocky Mountain National Park would benefit from a ten-year road-building project to cost $1,750,000. The project would begin with the construction of a new $650,000 approach to Milner Pass, to supersede the Fall River Road. This "wonder road" would ascend the old Trail Ridge, generally following the path used for ages by Indians in crossing the Continental Divide. [60] Its construction, along with other road and trail work in the Park, will be considered next.

<<< Previous <<< Contents >>> Next >>>

Last Updated: 15-Jan-2004