Rocky Mountain National Park
A History
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Rocky Mountain National Park: A History is more than just the story of Rocky Mountain in its brief tenure as a national park. Its scope includes the earliest traces of human activity in the region and outlines the major events of exploration, settlement, and exploitation. Origins of the national park idea are followed into the recent decades of the Park's overwhelming popularity. It is a story of change, of mountains reflecting the tenor of the times. From being a hunting ground to becoming ranchland, from being a region of resorts to becoming a national park, this small segment of the Rocky Mountains displays a record of human activities that helps explain the present and may guide us toward the future.

As a professional park historian, planner and manager I have been ever aware of the dilemma the Congress created when it charged the National Park Service with both "conserving the scenery . . . and providing for the public enjoyment . . ." It is a challenge I have enjoyed, because it has reminded me that as a manager I must balance these two concepts, emphasizing preservation if need be, or public use if the needs of visitors were not receiving due consideration. Like the scale of old, an emphasis of the moment would tilt the scale so that it was never in perfect balance. Curt Buchholtz has related this fluctuating pattern in the Park's history in an interesting and accurate manner.

During the early years of the Park's existence the emphasis was on publicizing the area to attract more and more visitors. At times the publicity exceeded the bounds of good taste as park personnel encouraged the "freest possible use" as the language in the Park's Establishment Act encouraged.

The growth in auto touring influenced use of the Park throughout its history, with the result that the recent accelerating growth of the Front Range communities in Colorado has caused a revolutionary change in the Park's management. From the early pre-auto days when visitors spent two or three weeks at a private lodge within the Park, to the post-World War II fast-moving visitor who tries to visit several parks during a two-week vacation and thus spends two or three days at the most in or near the Park, the Park has become a day-use area where more and more visitors spend part of a day in the Park motoring, hiking, and then moving on. Rocky Mountain National Park is taking on the trappings of a suburban national park. However, designating over 90% of the Park as wilderness will help preserve this area for today's and tomorrow's visitors.

Curt Buchholtz's view of this process will help provide the visitor and management with a better idea of where we've been, where we are and where we may be going. The reader will be better informed to weigh the problems and opportunities the Park faces and to assist in directing not only this park but all national parks in maintaining that ever-delicate and critical balance between preservation and use.

Chester L. Brooks
Rocky Mountain National Park


Rocky Mountain National Park: A History
©1997, University Press of Colorado All rights reserved.
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