Rocky Mountain National Park
A History
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Chapter 7:

"American tourist travel is of a swift tempo. People want to keep moving. They are satisfied with brief stops here and there."
Horace M. Albright Director, National Park Service, 1931

IN 1936, a Rocky Mountain ranger named Bob Flame became an historical phenomenon. Through his eyes and actions Americans discovered the dramatic world of rangering in the Rockies. Readers found Flame and his fellow rangers busy searching for tourists missing in the mountains. Observers soon recognized the courage and daring necessary to effect the rescue of hapless or careless Park visitors. They learned of daily difficulties rangers confronted in weather and wilderness. Like other heroic characters, Bob Flame and his men fought for justice, captured outlaws, and faced death without fear. With Bob Flame offering a literary example, Rocky Mountain's rangers changed from being mere government bureaucrats; their dedication to the principles of preservation and the protection of the public made them worthy of adulation.

But Bob Flame, like a few other heros in history, existed primarily in the mind. He was created by Chief Park Naturalist Dorr Yeager and portrayed in a novel entitled Bob Flame, Rocky Mountain Ranger, published in 1936. As one of the Park's key publicists during the 1930s, Yeager believed that rangers offered a popular and romantic image of courage and adventure. Yeager knew he had a subject tailor-made for projecting the pride of the National Park Service, the best it had to offer. Mixing facts with his fiction, Yeager sought to describe the rangers of Rocky Mountain at work. He hoped to record the realities of their job. In developing the character of Bob Flame, he offered a composite of men he knew, of rangers he saw in action. But a simple story about protection and preservation activities was not enough; idealism and adventure had to be added. In Yeager's novel, Bob Flame came to symbolize a spirit of professional dedication. Having national parks required finding people willing to work for a "good cause." Rangers such as Flame helped the National Park Service achieve its goals, whether in publicity, preservation, or protection. Yet the real Rocky Mountain rangers, like the concept of a national park itself, never existed in an ideal form. Reality played havoc with idealistic notions. Was the Park a preserve or a playground? Was it going to be protected or expected to produce something tangible? Between 1930 and the mid-1950s, Rocky Mountain National Park became a tremendously popular refuge for Americans seeking recreation and relaxation. And it started to face the consequences of that popularity.

Symbolic of an ideal, the rangers of Rocky Mountain National Park seemed to personify the preservation of nature and the protection of the park visitor. (RMNPHC)

In 1929, when Roger Toll left for Yellowstone and Edmund Rogers became the new superintendent, neither man could foresee how events well beyond the Park would affect its future in the coming decades. Toll had worked hard to create an image of progress and popularity for the area. Rogers could only expect that development would continue and tourism would steadily increase. But within a year or two, the Depression changed that vision of the future; later, World War II interrupted vacation plans nationwide; and then, just as unexpected, a boom in post-war travel produced by prosperity brought more tourists than ever. So rather than experiencing the steady development initiated by Roger Toll, Rocky Mountain National Park reflected the pulse of the nation, feeling the tempo of Depression, war, and peace.

As the 1930s began, it appeared as if the publicity efforts and construction programs of the previous decade would simply continue. Edmund Rogers, handpicked by Superintendent Toll, stepped into a park seemingly destined for a bright and busy future. Before his new appointment, Rogers had served with the U.S. Geological Survey and was an officer of the Colorado National Bank. His brother, James Grafton Rogers, had earlier formulated the original legislation that created the Park. A long personal friendship with Roger Toll, active membership in the Colorado Mountain Club, and having national parks as a "sort of hobby," all helped Rogers gain the position of superintendent. And for a year or two, the future certainly looked promising. As National Park Service Director Horace Albright reported about Rocky Mountain in 1931: "Its problems were not pressing. Its organization has been functioning smoothly. Steady progress has been made in all lines of activity." [2]

A new highway carved across the tundra of Trail Ridge offered a safer route of travel over the Continental Divide. This "scenic wonder road" was opened for use in 1932. (RMNPHC)

One form of the "steady progress" Albright described involved the construction of Trail Ridge Road. Congress appropriated $450,000 for the first phase of that project in April of 1929. By October, W. A. Colt of Las Animas, Colorado was awarded the contract for building the eastern portion of the new highway. Colt, a well-known ditch and railroad builder then seventy-two years old, had just completed a contract on the Bear Lake Road. Establishing a base camp at Hidden Valley, Colt soon had his crew hard at work. Among his 185 employees were foremen, power shovel operators, oilers, cooks, blacksmiths, mechanics, and about 150 laborers. The winter of 1929-1930 proved to be mild, enabling Colt and his crew to continue construction activities until March 16th. Even then, blizzards interrupted their progress only briefly. By April 7th, 1930, the men were back at work, proceeding much faster than originally thought possible. By September of 1930 the first phase of the 17.2-mile project was 55 percent completed. At the same time, L. T. Lawler of Butte, Montana was awarded a contract for the western section of the road, from Fall River Pass to the floor of the Colorado River valley, a distance of 11 miles.

Care was taken to minimize the environmental damage that the construction of Trail Ridge Road caused. The decision to build the roadway meant sacrificing some preservationist ideals to allow easier access to the high country. (RMNPHC)

Both Colt's and Lawler's crews faced a more difficult winter in 1930-1931. Drifts of snow and persistent frosts kept Lawler's men inactive until May and Colt's crew waiting until June. But delays caused by weather failed to dim any enthusiasm for its upcoming completion. "It is hard to describe what a sensation this new road is going to make," Park Service Director Albright predicted, "you will have the whole sweep of the Rockies before you in all directions. It is going to give you the quintessence of the Rockies in one view." [3] Work proceeded rapidly throughout the summer of 1931, helping speed Albright's promise into reality. By July of 1932, the eastern section of Trail Ridge Road was sufficiently completed to allow automobiles filled with curious sightseers to traverse the roadway. In 1933, the entire new route opened for travel, although finishing touches such as paving and rock work would continue throughout the decade.

Here was a highway built to serve as a perfect introduction to the Rocky Mountains, a "scenic wonder road of the world" as the Rocky Mountain News termed it. Although some potential visitors would wonder whether it was safe, especially "flatlanders" unaccustomed to mountain driving, Trail Ridge provided "a perfect roadbed—twenty-four feet from shoulder to shoulder, providing sufficient room for even the most timid and unexperienced motorists to pass abreast." [4] Promoters of this new road could also boast that ten of its miles ran at an altitude above eleven thousand feet in elevation. Yet at the same time no part of the road exceeded a grade steeper than 7 percent. The Estes Park Trail reported that "many cars make the trip from the village to the 'top' without changing gears." [5] Creating an easy approach to the high country offered "one of the most amazing vistas of mountains and forests ever given men the privilege of seeing for only the cost of a few hours' effortless driving." [6]

Constructing this new highway through the heart of a national park brought very few complaints. Voicing one note of concern, landscape architect Charles Eliot argued: "It is much better to build no roads than to run the risk of destroying wilderness areas." [7] Clearly that was a minority opinion. For contrary to Eliot's view, advocates of Trail Ridge road pointed to the simple fact that it replaced the older, more hazardous Fall River route. Any destruction of wilderness could be blamed on the earlier road crossing the mountains, initiated prior to the Park being "preserved." And this was also an era when building roads in national parks gained wide popularity. The National Park Service believed it was responding correctly to a public need. The improved route across Trail Ridge matched the Sylvan Pass road in Yellowstone, Going-to-the-Sun highway in Glacier, the Wawona road and tunnel in Yosemite (as well as the Tioga Road by 1940), the Cape Royal road in Grand Canyon, and others. All these roads provided easier automobile access to national park interiors and all were conceived during this same flurry of development activity. Road construction of this type, Park Service Director Albright believed, "is meeting an obligation to the great mass of people who because of age, physical condition, or other reason would never have an opportunity to enjoy, close at hand, this marvelous mountain park." [8] Both newspaper and National Park Service reports stressed that only minimal disruption of the natural scene occurred as a result of the road's construction. "Everything possible has been done to preserve the beauty of the terrain through which the road leads," claimed one report. Careful supervision by W. T. Lafferty, district engineer for the Bureau of Public Roads, and continuous inspection by Superintendent Rogers helped maintain aesthetic sensitivity. When outcroppings at the Rock Cut had to be blasted with dynamite, for example, care was taken to guard neighboring rock pillars to prevent noticeable scarring. "After each blast of dynamite," a final report noted, "workmen have cleaned up all 'country rock' thrown over the landscape so that there would be no unsightly white rock among the lichen covered boulders that contribute to the scenery." [9] Historian Lloyd Musselman credited Superintendent Rogers with walking the entire length of Trail Ridge some twenty times. Based on his recommendations, the road followed the most scenic route possible, including the dramatic Rock Cut area. But no single individual could have built this "million dollar road." From the laborer who worked with pick and shovel, gasping for breath in the frigid high altitudes, to Park Service officials guiding the project through the corridors of government, many could be proud of their achievement. Historian Musselman concluded simply that the "Trail Ridge project was a triumph of human ingenuity and perseverance." [10] Whether it compromised a wilderness ideal for the Park was another matter.

The immediate impact of opening Trail Ridge Road was far from philosophical. On a purely economic level, a project of such magnitude kept many people from Estes Park, Grand Lake, and other nearby communities employed while other parts of the nation began to suffer the effects of the Depression. In addition to producing jobs, the new highway attracted more tourists. While other national parks watched their annual tide of vacationers dwindle by 25 percent or more during the 1930s, Rocky Mountain's figures kept increasing. In 1929, an estimated 256,000 people entered the Park, and by 1933, with Trail Ridge Road fully opened, the number increased to nearly 292,000. Economic ills could not compete with a spectacular new highway as those 1933 travelers arrived in 83,000 automobiles. By 1938, the number of people entering the Park climbed to nearly 660,000, bringing with them some 200,000 cars. Whether these travelers stayed only briefly or took the time "to rest and play" as expected by national park idealists appeared to be unimportant as National Park Service officials reveled in those numbers and local businesses reaped a harvest of tourist dollars. The annual display of those growing statistics allowed Park officials to link their concept of progress through construction to the economic well-being of the local communities. Whether fulfilling national park ideals or not, this section of the Rockies remained closely tied to the entrepreneurial environment of Estes Park and Grand Lake, just as it had during the era preceding the Park's formation. Superintendent David Canfield summarized this mood in 1941. "In the villages of Estes Park and Grand Lake," he observed, "national park interests are as close to the villagers as their own interests, and local suspicions of this government bureau are being replaced by a spirit of cooperation." [11]

By the late 1930s, the village of Estes Park displayed growth enhanced by businesses linked to the recreation industry. (RMNPHC)

During the decade preceding Canfield's hopeful report, occasional differences arose with local residents as Park officials promoted a wilder environment for the Park. Along the Park's eastern boundary, in particular, dozens of parcels of private property, many sporting summer cabins, served as an encroaching display of civilization for visitors expecting to see wilderness. Creating an appropriate entrance and environment for the Park meant acquiring private property. Much of Horseshoe Park, Beaver Meadows, and neighboring Moraine Park were occupied by ranches and resorts, this land having been homesteaded prior to the Park's formation. Also private was Bear Lake, the Loch, Mills Lake, and thousands of acres of other key attractions. At Director Albright's urging, the National Park Service started a lengthy program of land acquisition. Their intention was to insure that anyone driving the new Trail Ridge Road would behold scenery "free from unsightly and cluttered up structures." It took some convincing to assure local landowners "that the whole plan is a patriotic one in that the primary interest is to safeguard the general public interest in the protection for all time of the landscape of this wonderfully beautiful park approach." [12] But buying property could only be accomplished in a piecemeal fashion, taking decades to accomplish. Removing every trace of old buildings, many in ramshakle condition, took even longer.

An additional concern about the number of businesses sprouting at the very edge of the Park brought statements of cautious admonition, with National Park Service spokesmen gingerly sidestepping any interference with the legal rights of property owners. In a guarded statement, Director Albright suggested that "the establishment of hot dog stands and billboards is frowned upon but there is no reason why the service should seek to curtail legitimate business enterprises." [13] Practically admitting defeat in that arena, he conceded: "Our ideals contemplate a national park system of primitive lands free from all present and future commercial utilization, but, like all ideals, they can not be uniformly attained in this day and age." [14]

Protecting the Park's periphery included more than just decrying billboards and hot dog stands. Officials faced a more dramatic problem in poaching. Guarding the Park's wildlife kept rangers busy throughout the 1930s. Pursuing poachers became an annual challenge, especially when the local hunting season was in full swing and hunters occasionally "strayed" into the Park. Chief Ranger John McLaughlin, who served as the archetype for Dorr Yeager's hero Bob Flame, argued that a modern poacher "is nothing more than a sneaking racketeer." This cowardly villain "carries on his illegal trade in a game refuge," McLaughlin wrote, "where deer browse a few yards from a road and only a minimum amount of physical exertion and hunting skill is necessary." Not only were the poacher's hunting methods scurrilous, but he would shoot "the same deer that have only several months previously given tourists and visitors a real thrill and no little delight." McLaughlin appealed to people of the local communities to assist his rangers in their protection efforts, hoping to stamp out "this Sneak in our midst." He complained that public opinion did not seem overly concerned about poaching "but it is high time that thinking citizens consider it." [15] In the semi-fictional Bob Flame, Rocky Mountain Ranger, the damnable poacher got caught. "He'll have six months to think things over," Flame concluded, "and when he comes out I'll bet he'll have reached the conclusion that those three does were pretty expensive meat." [16]

Using the latest two-way radio equipment, barricading roads, and making daring automobile chases all helped capture the classic poacher in fiction. While actual pursuits might prove equally dramatic, many times they were less successful. District Ranger Jack Moomaw recorded one version of a real chase, offering an example of a particularly ambitious effort. The pursuit began when Grand Lake ranger Fred McLaren discovered a poacher's trap line within the Park boundary. Hoping to catch the culprit, he started trailing the fellow's fresh snowshoe tracks. That trail led the determined McLaren clear across the Continental Divide, down into Forest Canyon, all the way to the Pool on the Big Thompson River. Along the way he gathered all the illegal traps as well as a couple of ensnared marten. Exhausted by his trek and unable to catch sight of his quarry, McLaren retired to Park headquarters and reported his evidence. Almost immediately his task was continued by rangers Moomaw and Harold Ratcliff. Heading into the mountains on skis, they first went to Fern Lake, thinking that the devious trapper might have broken into Fern Lake Lodge to spend the night. They were proved wrong. Regardless, they spent that night at the government cabin nearby. Early the next day they rediscovered the poacher's tracks heading westward, back across the Divide. Cautiously, the two rangers worked their way to the head of Spruce Canyon, climbing a steep pass on crusty snow and ice. "Without knowing it we had been flirting with disaster," Moomaw recalled, "for to have slipped down that slope into the rocks below would have been almost certain death." A gale of icy wind greeted the two rangers once they topped the Divide. Rapidly they began their descent into Tonahutu Creek. Finding shelter among some trees, they built a fire, thawed their canteens, and ate a chilly lunch. "Gosh, he must be a tough egg!" Ratcliff admitted. During the afternoon that followed, the two men continued on, sometimes floundering in soft snow, crashing through down-timber and brush. Nightfall came as the rangers trudged on. Finally, in a dilapidated barn at Big Meadows, they found some shelter for the night. Even though they were exhausted and nearly frozen, they managed to build a fire and fix a warm supper. Through the frigid night that followed, the two took turns tending their fire and sleeping, trying to avoid freezing to death. When morning came, they skied to Grand Lake Ranger Station. There they met ranger McLaren who had returned by automobile. All their efforts proved fruitless. McLaren announced that the poacher had escaped, "left for parts unknown," leaving the rangers with only a set of traps and a memorable chase. A couple of marten McLaren found in those traps soon graced the Park's museum. [17]

Rangers of the 1930s started forsaking their horses for patrol vehicles with more horsepower. (RMNPHC)

Frustrating pursuits of this sort must have angered dedicated men like Ratcliff, Moomaw, and McLaren. As a result, continuous appeals were made for the public to assist in wildlife preservation. "Government protection is of little use, in a community such as ours," Moomaw wrote in a local newspaper, "unless backed by private effort and cooperation, and this means you, and you, and you." [18]

The introduction of mobile radios in patrol cars enhanced rangers' power to perform their duties of enforcing park rules and regulations. (RMNPHC)

As with their success in attracting more and more tourists, Park Service efforts at protecting wildlife started to look almost too effective. By the end of the 1930s, officials realized that there were more deer and elk living in Rocky Mountain National Park than its natural range could support. With predatory animals almost entirely removed and hunting controlled, the remaining animal population multiplied rapidly. In 1937, naturalists Merlin Potts and Howard Gregg, along with ranger Harold Ratcliff, counted some 648 deer and 263 elk, and their totals were considered only a part of the actual population. By 1939, the elk in particular had overpopulated their grazing territory. Ratcliff observed: "They can no longer sustain themselves in such numbers without irreparable damage to the range." [19] The old practices of simply killing predators and guarding against poachers would not insure a healthy herd of animals within the preserve. Additional "management" to prevent over-browsed feeding grounds and starvation now became necessary. Encouraging hunting on land adjacent to the Park offered a workable solution. So, in 1941, a special hunting season was permitted along the Park's eastern boundary, culling 97 elk from the increasing herd. But not enough animals were eliminated and the problem continued. By 1944 an even more aggressive step had to be taken. Park rangers were forced to shoot some 300 elk and 100 deer. A crisis in overpopulation demanded radical solutions. Throughout the 1940s and early 1950s, numerous studies monitored wildlife populations and their ranges. Park officials hoped to establish a balance between animals and edibles. Live-trapping and transplanting were sometimes substituted for shooting; scientific studies were initiated; wildlife biologists were consulted; officials sought to avoid controversy by basing their decisions upon research. Shooting hundreds of animals, after all, appeared quite contrary to general national park ideals based on pure protection. Ideals changed to irony as problems grew more complex.

Rangers always had to be prepared for any emergency, from fixing flat tires to fighting forest fires. (RMNPHC)

Seemingly less complicated, even the transplantation of trouble some animals occasionally produced strange results. In August of 1932, for example, ranger Jack Moomaw trapped a 300-pound black bear that had been rummaging around near his cabin. Soon after, Chief Ranger McLaughlin transported the offending bruin to Chapin Pass, released the critter, and watched it scamper northward. But Moomaw's problem was just beginning. The very next night, five smaller bears started skulking around his station. Apparently the larger bear had kept the others out of that territory. Managing Park wildlife became a learning process for rangers as well.

One pressure forcing poachers to invade the Park in the early 1930s may have been the Depression, although ranger Moomaw argued against that notion. "It is hard for me to believe that anyone in this community is in such dire need that it is necessary for him to kill a deer," he wrote. [20] Regardless of his opinion, economic woes were affecting the communities around the Park. In February, 1933, Superintendent Rogers observed: "There is no activity in the town of Estes Park. 'Old Timers' say it is the quietest year in the history of the region. Business and hotel men are going about with long faces, realizing of course, that the coming season will be a gamble." Expecting the worst, Rogers concluded: "It's our opinion that the community in general has just begun to feel the sting of the depression." [21]

Yet vacationers defied that ominous prediction and continued to stream into Rocky Mountain National Park, the nation's economy notwithstanding. Perhaps the Park offered a temporary escape from the realities of hard times. In the case of hundreds of young men, the Park definitely provided an economic refuge: these were the members of the Civilian Conservation Corps. In March of 1933, President Roosevelt proposed a program to provide unemployment relief by putting people from cities to work in the nation's forests and parks. Based on Roosevelt's plan, Congress swiftly passed the Emergency Conservation Work Act. On April 5th, 1933, Roosevelt signed the bill into law, creating the "CCC." Immediately, state foresters, members of the U.S. Forest Service, and officials of the National Park Service were called upon to integrate this new program into their areas and operations.

Young men who enrolled in the program were to be physically fit, unemployed, unmarried, and between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five. Later, the age limits were reduced to seventeen and increased to twenty-eight. Each enrollee received a dollar a day for his labor, of which twenty-five dollars a month was sent to his family back home. Crew foremen earned a bit more, normally forty-five dollars per month. Every man also received suitable clothing as well as shelter, food, and transportation. The War Department coordinated the selection of men, the construction and supervision of camps, and the delivery of supplies and equipment. Local rangers identified important projects they wished to see accomplished, giving assistance, advice, and occasional supervision once work got underway. Between 1933 and 1942, when the CCC was finally disbanded due to the war, nearly 3,200,000 young men gained employment through this program all across the nation. The total cost of the CCC amounted to some $3 billion, of which $700 million went directly to the enrollees' families. In spite of the cost, President Roosevelt deemed the CCC necessary to relieve "the acute condition of widespread distress and unemployment." [22]

Rocky Mountain National Park received its first contingent of this unemployed army on May 12, 1933. Two officers and 8 men arrived from Fort Logan near Denver and were promptly greeted at Park headquarters by a howling blizzard. Undaunted, however, they recruited an additional 35 local "woodsmen" within a week and started constructing the first of several CCC camps in the region. Although piles of crusted snow had to be shoveled to clear the ground, a camp called "N.P.-C-1" eventually sprouted in Little Horseshoe Park. Built in army style, the camp contained some 24 pyramidal tents for quarters, 4 larger hospital tents, a field kitchen, and other necessary accouterments. Almost immediately, men started arriving: 48 from Fort Sill, Oklahoma; 111 from Greeley; and 50 more from Fort Logan. Unfortunately, all these men arrived before necessary supplies reached the camp. Chilly weather caught many of them without proper clothing. Shortages of food and bedding soon caused the men to riot. Park officials quickly assisted camp supervisors, providing Moraine Lodge as temporary shelter. Within a couple of days, adequate food and supplies finally arrived and the CCC's future looked brighter. Every man was issued 6 blankets, a mattress, and a cot. In addition, each enrollee received 2 pairs of denim pants, a pair of khaki pants, 2 khaki shirts, a blue-denim hat, 6 pairs of socks, 2 pairs of boots, a toilet kit, and one aluminum mess kit, which included a canteen. NP-C-1, rapidly built and inhabited, standing ready for work, held 194 men and 2 officers. But just when everything seemed in perfect shape, another late spring blizzard hit on May 22. Tents were "torn to ribbons," while others collapsed with men inside. Part of the mess tent "was blown into Kansas," and pots and pans were strewn for a mile down the valley. Perhaps this storm helped christen the CCC concept. It certainly made the men of N.P.-C-1 more determined to succeed, for it only took one day for the blasted camp to recover. The following day 100 men were hard at work chopping away at beetle-killed trees as part of "Roosevelt's Green Guard." [23]

Nation-wide unemployment during the Depression found hundreds of young men joining the Civilian Conservation Corps, with Rocky Mountain National Park offering one of many sites for outdoor work. (RMNPHC)

Below: organized by the Army in military fashion, CCC camps provided food, shelter, and clothing for each enrollee willing to work. (RMNPHC)

At first many of the recruits found forest work difficult. According to CCC enrollee Battell Loomis, "sore backs and blistered hands, sunburn, homesickness, and general misery made us about as stiff-muscled a bunch as you every saw." A few men called it quits, deciding to "go over the hill." But most enrollees preferred the work in the woods to facing depressed conditions back home. Loomis recalled their camp schedule: up at six o'clock; breakfast at seven ("hot and plenty of it"); policing the camp until eight; off to work from eight until noon; lunch at twelve ("we get a pound of bread and a pound of meat per man per day, as well as eggs and plenty of vegetables"); four more hours of work and back to camp by four-thirty. Evening left the men on their own, with athletics, classes, and occasional trips to the village serving as diversions. Army rules were mixed with the knowledge that these men were civilians. "No liquor in camp is the hard-and-fast rule," Loomis recalled. Following a similar pattern, camp life at N.P.-C-1 was copied at several additional locations such as Grand Lake, along Mill Creek, or at various temporary backcountry sites. [24]

The CCC camp called "NP-1-C" in Little Horseshoe Park displayed the orderly environment provided for unemployed men between 1933 and 1942. (RMNPHC)

Once underway, the CCC workers did more than just cut and remove beetle infested trees. They landscaped government buildings, removed old and unsightly structures, built and improved trails, restored land to its natural condition, constructed telephone lines, improved campgrounds, and completed dozens of other tasks involving both construction and conservation. Some of them worked in skilled occupations, helping the National Park Service with its administrative tasks, assisting as naturalists, photographers, carpenters, trail crews, and the like. Whenever the Park experienced major emergencies, CCC crews offered assistance. They participated in numerous rescue efforts, especially those searches that required many helpers to comb the countryside. They fought forest fires. In all their tasks, CCC manpower was a considerable asset to the Park. Local pundits first called these men "woodpeckers" or "woodticks," terms that riled more than one enrollee. Defending their honor, Battell Loomis saw this "Green Guard of the Roosevelt Revolution" simply as "men who didn't have a chance under the old deal, willing to work, just starting out in life, good cannon fodder for the Communists or the racketeers." [25]

Until July 29th, 1942, when the last enrollees left the Mill Creek camp, the CCC worked to improve the condition of the Park. At the same time, the mountains worked their own magic upon the men. In the words of Battell Loomis, "While we CCC men are doing things to the forests, the forest is doing things to us." What Loomis saw his fellow enrollees gaining most was self-reliance. In addition, they obtained practical experience in the trades of forestry, masonry, and carpentry. Just working at a job, holding employment of any sort, was highly valued. Best of all, Loomis believed their work in Rocky Mountain with the CCC gave them hope for a brighter future, for "the one thing (the CCC) will not do is retreat into the bread lines whence Roosevelt recruited it." [26] Rocky Mountain National Park assumed a role as an economic refuge, there for men who needed help.

Rocky Mountain National Park provided plenty of labor intensive projects for CCC men willing to work for a dollar a day. (RMNPHC)

The CCC enrollees took pride in their accomplishments and the aesthetic quality of the Park was improved through their efforts. (RMNPHC)

While park officials were sorry to see the CCC program end, they were even less pleased to see another government project get underway. That new undertaking, viewed as endangering the ideals of wilderness and preservation, became known as the Colorado-Big Thompson Water Diversion Project. During the 1930s water remained a very critical issue for farmers living on the eastern plains of Colorado. With the spreading Dust Bowl causing ever greater worries, irrigation advocates around Greeley and other plains communities revived a decades-old proposal to divert Colorado River water directly through the Rockies by means of a tunnel. In 1933, when this idea was again publicly suggested, national park supporters immediately unfurled the banners of wilderness preservation. They challenged any further encroachments of civilization upon the Park. Two basic philosophies regarding public land use once again came into conflict: one that sought to preserve the natural integrity of the Park and one that saw the utilitarian aspect of water, arguing its necessity for agriculture.

Building diversion canals and reservoirs throughout the mountains had become a standard practice in Colorado dating from the 1860s. Farming land that received less than sixteen inches of rainfall each year required the development of irrigation. Ambitious water projects served as the lifeblood for hundreds of farms and dozens of villages out on the arid plains. For western agriculture, dams, canals, and reservoirs meant more than just conservation: they meant survival. Simple irrigation canals of the 1860s and 1870s led to major diversion projects by the 1880s and 1890s, producing such projects as the Grand River Ditch. In 1905, a group of engineering students from Colorado State College examined the Front Range and plotted a potential tunnel from Grand Lake to Moraine Park, and presented a convincing case to water project advocates showing this plan was feasible. At about the same time, the federal Bureau of Reclamation, aggressive in water development and conservation projects, withdrew land around Grand Lake from public entry, eyeing that region for potential diversion projects. When Rocky Mountain National Park was formed in 1915, the Bureau of Reclamation received assurances that "rights of way" for "irrigation and other purposes" would not be disrupted by the new park. [27]

In 1923, Superintendent Toll surveyed all the reservoir and ditch sites then active in the Park, all predating the Park itself. He discovered eighteen such projects, including such entries as Lawn Lake, Sandbeach Lake, the Eureka Ditch to Spruce Canyon, Snowbank Lake, and three Cairns reservoirs. Every section of the Park appeared to have its share of projects. Park officials were fully aware of the expectations Colorado farmers had for the melting snows and bubbling brooks of the Rockies.

When the tunnel idea once again emerged in 1933, Park Service officials argued that their ideals of wilderness preservation were being undermined. So strong was that feeling that the initial reaction of Park Service Director Arno B. Cammerer to the project led him to reject a request from Weld and Larimer county citizens to make a survey of suitable locations for a tunnel within the Park. Sites outside of the Park should be considered first, the officials suggested. When a survey party arrived at Grand Lake regardless in August of 1933, Chief Ranger John McLaughlin was sent there to meet the intruders and block their entry into the Park. But in spite of the rangers, one engineer claimed to have located suitable sites for both the east and west portals of the proposed tunnel: Grand Lake would serve as the western reservoir for a tunnel that would empty some thirteen miles to the east at the Wind River, just southeast of Emerald Mountain. Convinced the project would work, supporters of the tunnel remained undaunted by the challenge of Park Service idealists.

What national park supporters feared most was another scar of civilization, damaging the remaining wildness of the mountains. They believed that a tunnel might pierce fractures in the rock, draining some of the high mountain lakes dry. They argued that reservoirs were unsightly and that power stations and electrical transmission lines ruined the aesthetic quality of wild areas. In general, they believed that the proposed tunnel could "leave a scar on the wilderness character of the park and its environs." [28] Allied conservation groups, many from outside of Colorado, joined the National Park Service in its opposition to the tunnel. "We submit that this project violates the most sacred principle of National Parks," one protest read, "namely freedom from commercial or economic exploitations and that if approved by Congress it will establish a precedent for the commercial invasion of other parks." [29] The Audubon Society, the Izaak Walton League, the Wilderness Society, and other like-minded groups campaigned to prevent the project. Yet the proposal would not die. Colorado farmers demanded water and farmers carried political clout. With little difficulty, supporters of the project gained the backing of the Bureau of Reclamation, along with numerous Colorado communities and newspapers, and most of the state's leading politicians. More surveys soon led to legislation proposed before Congress. Once the issue entered the political arena, the tunnel idea found a most favorable climate.

This was a project that appeared to constitute a practically unbeatable formula for one view of conservation: it combined water for irrigation with the production of inexpensive hydroelectric power. Furthermore, farmers would pay for the water they used and customers would pay for electricity, eventually repaying the government for all expenses of construction. Receiving a blessing from the Public Works Administration, a project of this type also created many jobs, helping boost the economic conditions in neighboring communities. That economic promise found particular favor in Estes Park and Grand Lake. And like dozens of other New Deal construction projects, the proposal gained the support of President Roosevelt once the legislation was submitted to Congress by Colorado's Senator Alva B. Adams in 1937. Nevertheless, National Park Service spokesmen still tried to stem this tide of support. Superintendent Thomas J. Allen demanded that "vigorous efforts should be made by the Service to prevent such construction in this or any other national park, in order that these areas may be safeguarded for perpetual preservation." [30] But arguments for preservation would not erase the historic legacy of water projects predating the Park; idealists arguing for wilderness could not defeat ardent pragmatists whose views were based on employment and necessity. Every National Park Service protest failed. On December 27, 1937, President Roosevelt gave his final approval for the Colorado-Big Thompson diversion project.

Following almost two years of preparation, drilling into the mountains began on June 16, 1940. Work continued steadily, but in late 1942 the War Production Board ordered a halt, claiming that the tunnel was not essential to the war effort. By September of 1943, the task of boring resumed. The main tunnel was finally "holed through" on July 10, 1944. When the eastern crews met men drilling from the west, engineers claimed that their 13.1-mile tunnel was off its alignment by only seven-sixteenths of an inch. Regardless of the controversy, here was a marvel of engineering. On June 23, 1947, the first water flowed eastward from Grand Lake through the "Alva B. Adams Tunnel" and by 1954 almost all associated elements of the project, including Lakes Estes and Granby, Shadow Mountain Reservoir, additional tunnels, power stations, dams, and so on, were completed.

Yet the question remained whether national park ideals had been compromised. Arguing their case for wilderness values, the National Park Service spokesmen simply hoped that alternative routes through the Rockies would also be considered. Their subsequent failure to prevent the tunnel did not mean total defeat for their ideals, however. According to Lloyd Musselman, voicing concern about protecting the Park meant that the Bureau of Reclamation displayed greater care "so that nature's setting was disturbed as little as possible." [31] As one example, the pumping of water into Shadow Mountain Lake helped keep the scenic Grand Lake at a constant level. Thus, the old resort setting of Grand Lake retained its image even though it served as the western portal for a massive water diversion project. On the eastern slope, tourists would have to go out of their way and find the Wind River in order to discover the tunnel's exiting portal. Far less damage resulted from construction because advocates of preservation expressed their fears for the Park. Historian Musselman concluded that "the practical needs of nearby water users resulted in only minor modifications of the Park's primitive character." [32]

The Alva B. Adams Tunnel was "holed through" in July of 1944. Because park officials and preservationists voiced their opposition to this project, the visible impact of this engineering effort was kept at a minimum. (Estes Park Trail-Gazette)

The bustle of the 1930s—the completion of Trail Ridge Road, the arrival of the CCC, and the construction of the Colorado-Big Thompson project—tapered off with the onset of World War II. Activity in the Park wound down as numerous Park employees (including Superintendent Canfield) took furloughs to serve in the military and national gasoline rationing curtailed the use of automobiles for pleasure trips. As a result, Rocky Mountain National Park saw a decline in its visitation for the first time. Dipping from around 393,000 tourists in 1942, travel decreased by 67 percent in subsequent years, amounting to only 130,000 people in 1943 and 1944. Seventeen thousand of those 1943 visitors were listed as "men in the armed forces." Changing from its role as an economic refuge of the 1930s, the Park now offered a brief respite from war during the 1940s. And because of war, nearly every program of development, construction, and publicity was halted for the duration. In summary, the war years found the Park affected "by changes in personnel, decline in travel, reduced or curtailed work programs and activities, and with essential functions and activities being carried on by fewer employees with greater responsibilities," according to Acting Superintendent George Miller. [33]

But any doldrums experienced because of World War II quickly disappeared once victory came. In the words of the newly returned Superintendent Canfield: "With the cessation of hostilities and the end of gasoline rationing, visitor travel took a marked jump and brought with it the increased load of protection work which results from heavy visitor use." [34] That "marked jump" soon displayed evidence of a real boom: in 1947 nearly 900,000 visitors entered the Park and in 1948 "an all time record" was reported as visitation finally topped the million mark. Peace and prosperity helped bring more vacationers than ever. And all those numbers meant more work for the Park rangers, their numbers still reduced from economy measures of the Depression and curtailment caused by war. According to Superintendent Canfield, those rangers were "seriously handicapped" because of "accidents occurring frequently along the highways and in the back country," resulting in a situation in which "the few men in the field were kept exceedingly busy." [35]

It was not just accidents that kept rangers busy. Other problems surfaced, too. In 1948, for example, a headline in the Rocky Mountain News read: "Vandals Deface Rocky Mountain Park." The vandals of the story were not identified by name nor were they specific individuals. The article did not tell of a particular mountain being defaced or of some feature being stolen. Rather, the general public was the culprit and the "vandalism" was litter. Producing an aesthetic crisis, littering reached beyond the point of tolerance and was termed "the biggest problem" of the Park. "People who give us trouble," Superintendent Canfield declared, are those "who scatter bottles, cartons, and camp refuse around with no regard for sanitation or cleanliness." He claimed that Park crews charged with cleaning campgrounds and roadsides could barely keep up with all the newly deposited trash. Furthermore, inconsiderate vandals also ripped down many of the Park's rustic signs, chopping them up and using them for campfire wood. If firewood happened to be in short supply at campgrounds, Canfield observed, "they'll chop up the furniture or anything else they can find. Or they will tear shingles off the roofs of the shelter houses." In an effort to discourage such barbaric manners, Canfield offered one realistic solution: "We try to build everything so it's pretty hard to tear up." [36] Suggesting that visitors bring along some common courtesy and civilized behavior became part of the Park's publicity.

But for every story that detailed acts of vandalism there was a humorous tale or two from Park workers describing their encounter with tourists. Dorr Yeager once told of a Park visitor who became quite interested in all the glacial boulders strewn around the countryside, and asked a naturalist how they got there. The naturalist gave an elaborate explanation about how the glaciers carried the boulders down from the mountains. After listening intently, the tourist asked the obvious question: "But where are the glaciers now?" Responding with a touch of jest, the naturalist replied: "They've gone back after more rocks." [37]

The growth of wintertime recreation in the post-war years initiated the last major construction project linked to the era of promotion and publicity. A growing interest in winter sports had actually paralleled the entire history of the Park. In February of 1916, members of the Estes Park Outdoor Club invited the directors of the Colorado Mountain Club on a trip to Fern Lake, calling their expedition "a snow frolic." From then on, Fern Lake Lodge, then run by Clifford Higby, opened for about two weeks every winter, serving as a base for snowshoeing, skiing, and other outdoor activities. Every year until 1934 the Colorado Mountain Club members trekked to Fern Lake, discovered the joys of skiing, and proclaimed their enthusiasm for the sport. Businessmen and community boosters around Estes Park and Grand Lake also helped promote the idea of wintertime activities, eager to draw visitors to the region during the "off season." Rangers soon found themselves skiing along with these frolicsome folks, helping clear ski trails and assisting people with their bruises and fractures. National park planners, also eager to advertise this aspect of the playground, agreed with Superintendent Toll's statement: "There are great possibilities for the future development of winter sports in the region." [38]

The momentum of downhill and cross-country skiing popularity grew during the 1930s. In 1931, the Rocky Mountain National Park Ski Club was organized, comprising a mix of National Park Service employees and local villagers, with Chief Ranger McLaughlin serving as director. The club soon urged the building of a ski hill and toboggan slide at Hidden Valley. In 1932, however, the slopes within Moraine Park appeared more attractive for development. The Denver Post quickly voiced its enthusiasm for such an idea, believing that a ski area there would be "of major importance in the winter sports world." [39] But a major ski area failed to develop. Instead, on a less ambitious scale, winter carnivals were held at Estes Park and Grand Lake. Some ski jumping, a few ski races, and some cross-country jaunts remained the style of wintertime sport in the Park. More elaborate proposals for building ski areas equipped with tows remained the subject for local newspaper editorials, government reports, and skiers' dreams. "It has been done in other parks," Director Albright said, offering some hope, "and we will have to find a place for the toboggan slide, ski jump, etc., where it will not mar the natural beauties of the Park." [40]

The post-war boom in tourism saw frequent overcrowding at spots such as the Bear Lake area. A generation of prosperous vacationers began taxing park facilities and personnel with a burden of too much popularity. (RMNPHC)

Marring the Park or "scarring the landscape" with large swaths of trees cleared from the forests made the whole idea of a ski area less attractive to park preservationists. "Quibbles about 'scarring' the park have never seemed to us more than the poor argument of obstructionists," snapped the Estes Park Trail in a 1936 reply. [41] In response to such pressure, Park officials stepped up their winter program. They kept the Bear Lake road open for skiers' use, provided a skating rink on a beaver pond in Hidden Valley, and plowed the roads to both Willow Park and Hidden Valley.

Attempting to advertise winter sports in the area, local businessmen and park officials tried to portray Rocky Mountain National Park as a year around recreation spot. (RMNPHC)

When David Canfield took charge of the Park in 1937, he brought with him the experience he gained as superintendent of Crater Lake National Park. There he had worked for winter sports development. Once settled in Rocky Mountain, he discovered a booming interest in skiing, with a reported 75,000 wintertime visitors. At Hidden Valley, the unofficial center of action, he found overcrowded conditions and poor ski trails, "rather dangerous for the average skier." Its "perpetual wind blown crust" did not make the Hidden Valley site especially suitable for permanent development in his view. Instead, Canfield suggested that the upper Mill Creek basin could be developed, although he admitted that "meager snowfall seems to be a discouraging factor." [42]

Somewhat controversial in its origins and location, a winter sports center was finally established in 1955 when the Hidden Valley Winter Use Area opened. (RMNPHC)

World War II forestalled any major decision regarding developments at Mill Creek, Moraine Park, or Hidden Valley. Meanwhile, in 1941, some local high school boys installed a primitive tow at Hidden Valley. Once the war was over and winter sports were growing ever more popular, the Hidden Valley site had gained almost by default preeminence over the other sites. Slow to proceed with any major construction, Park officials hesitated about building a major ski area, weighing their choices between "landscape losses against the public use benefits." So leadership regarding ski area development passed to local businessmen and community boosters. By the late 1940s, they gained the backing of their Congressmen and the push for better facilities at Hidden Valley entered its final phase. By 1952, an "improvement of facilities" meant the building of a permanent chair lift. "A rope-tow-narrow-trail area appears to have the appeal of kissing your girl-friend's mother," read the Estes Park Trail, "just a substitute for the real thing." [43]

That kind of public pressure eventually paid off, much to the delight of down-hill skiers. Park officials soon agreed to construct two T-bar lifts (rather than the larger chair lifts) as well as a ski lodge that offered sufficient facilities to accommodate the increasing crowds of skiers. Yet at the same time, park planners worked to develop the area so it would not appear obtrusive and detract from the view along Trail Ridge Road. Because ski areas already existed in a few other national parks, most notably Yosemite's Badger Pass, lengthy philosophic debates regarding the preservation of wilderness values failed to delay the plan for development. After all, nearby Trail Ridge Road symbolized an earlier invasion of civilization crowding into the wilderness. Surveys for the new ski area began in 1954 and the construction of the lifts and a lodge followed quickly. On December 18, 1955, the Hidden Valley Winter Use Area was officially opened.

Completing the ski area capped years of construction, development, and promotion, a trend that had been going on since the Park was founded. Whether the Hidden Valley project was really desirable or in an ideal location could be questioned. In any case, national park officials had responded to public pressure. In a similar way, the building of Trail Ridge Road catered to a perceived public demand, combining a desire to promote the Park with "improvements." In this era, preservation of the area took a back seat to publicity, and such projects as the Colorado-Big Thompson tunnel forced the Park Service to compromise its ideals in order to accommodate an ever-demanding public.

By the mid-1950s, decades of publicity and development started to show results. If national parks measured their popularity by numbers, then Rocky Mountain National Park was a success. Trail Ridge Road reigned as the supreme attraction of the Park, with a million and a half visitors enjoying its vistas each season. The age of the automobile predominated, insuring easy access to the high country. A two- or three-hour drive across the Park became the principal Park experience for most visitors, and very few people complained that the scenery was less sublime as a result of the road.

The rangers' response to this mobile tourism meant spending more time patrolling the highways, less time hiking the trails, climbing the mountains, or pursuing poachers. Their more romantic image faded as they assumed duties similar to those of other officers of the law. Once in a while the adventurous ranger reemerged to rescue climbers from cliffs or capture a crook or two or patrol the ski slopes of Hidden Valley. But the image of the rugged and romantic park ranger was changing with time. Perhaps, like the Park itself, the image seemed a little less romantic once the horses and trails were forsaken for automobiles and highways.

By the time the fictional ranger Bob Flame left the Park, Dorr Yeager wrote, "He had grown to know its moods and to understand the calm peace of its meadows and the splendid fierceness of its timberline storms." [44] Few would doubt that ideals and images could be forged by people reacting to wilderness, but many of those ideas would also be tempered or tested by civilization. In a similar way, by the mid-1950s, Rocky Mountain National Park displayed a mixture of idealism and reality: its image was both romantic and wild but it faced the reality of a demanding public.


Rocky Mountain National Park: A History
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