Citizen Science

Citizen science projects are intended to enhance scientific literacy of the participants and improve the overall stewardship of park resources. Park managers develop scientifically sound practices then train volunteers to use these techniques and collect information for resource related projects. These programs allow participants to experience the park while also helping to address important management questions.

Check out some of our past and current projects below.

Student researchers identify dragonfly larvae in the field.
Eagle Rock students collect sediment and dragonfly larvae at Lily Lake, RMNP.

NPS/Jill Peters

Dragonfly Mercury Study

How much mercury is present in the water bodies of Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP)? This is one question citizen scientists are currently helping to answer. The Continental Divide Research Learning Center brought a nationwide mercury dragonfly study to RMNP. This program, conducted in partnership with the Eagle Rock School and Professional Development Center, the University of Maine, and USGS, has high school students participate in a citizen science project to contribute to better understanding the role dragonfly play as an indicator of mercury pollution. Dragonfly larvae have long life cycles and act as bio-indicators of what is in the water, including mercury.

Citizen scientists collect dragonfly larvae in the park and prepare samples for lab analysis of mercury levels. Dragonfly larvae are collected annually and sent to laboratories at the University of Maine for analysis. Results from this study are posted online and students can compare the data from RMNP sites with other national parks.

Students identifying and measuring a tree.

Forest Monitoring

Forest structure and species composition are key vital signs that can help the park understand the overall ecosystem health and impacts from climate change. AP high school classes are working as citizen scientists to monitor forest changes over time. This work will contribute to the understanding of how forests respond to large-scale impacts like climate change, invasive species, bark beetles, and fire. This project benefits the students by providing an opportunity to gain field skills through measurement and setup of plots, tree identification, and data collection. The park benefits by gaining valuable data about the changing occuring in the forests within the park.

Scientists show visitors a tree.
BioBlitz 2012 Field Inventory

NPS Photo

2012 BioBlitz in Rocky


The BioBlitz was part scientific endeavor, part festival and part outdoor classroom. Participants combed the park, recording as many plant and animal species as possible in 24 hours. The park hosted the 2012 National Geographic BioBlitz as part of a decade of species inventories in our national parks. Nearly 200 scientists joined forces with the public to count plants, insects, mammals, birds and other creatures that inhabit this majestic park. More than 5,000 people, including over 2,000 school children, participated in the event. A companion festival at the Estes Park Fairgrounds celebrated biodiversity and tallied up the numbers. This event added several species that had not been previously documented in the park. A 24-hour inventory period (noon-to-noon) over two days added a lizard, nine insects and 13 non-vascular plants to the park's species list. The big brown bat was officially confirmed at the 2012 BioBlitz.

Last updated: October 24, 2017