The Question: Could Beatrice Willard’s alpine tundra research plots be designated an historic site?
Dr. Beatrice Willard (1925-2003) was a beloved and respected tundra ecologist. In 1959 she established research exclosures (a fence used to keep something out of an area) along Trail Ridge Road at Rock Cut and Forest Canyon Overlook. Both areas showed great signs of human impact: vegetation was destroyed, lichen removed from rocks, and paths worn into sensitive tundra soils. Dr. Willard’s dissertation and subsequent scientific journal articles about alpine tundra recovery after human trampling have been cited extensively by scientists. In 1972, Dr. Willard co-authored the seminal book on alpine tundra: The Land Above the Trees. At Rocky Mountain National Park, Willard influenced how the park manages its alpine tundra by implementing several of Willard’s recommendations from her 40 years of research. Because of her influence in the park, managers wondered if her plots could be designated an historic site.
The Project: Write the story of Dr. Willard’s plots and life in their historic context.
Park Ranger Chase Davies and Historian-Ranger Cheri Yost used a variety of sources to analyze Willard’s contributions to park history. The pair reviewed copies of Willard’s obituaries, speeches, notes from her journals, newspaper articles from around the country, scientifi c journals, and other primary sources. They also reviewed the notes and photos that Willard donated to the park. Secondary sources ranged from magazine articles and books about women scientists, the history of American ecology, and research in the National Park Service. They also studied research plots in other parks and universities around the country. They constructed a history that placed the plots and Willard’s scientific contributions in a local, state, and national context.