At an elevation of 13,160 feet sits a field of pink granite boulders that visitors scamper over on their way to the summit of Rocky Mountain National Park’s highest mountain, Longs Peak. It is a stark place devoid of vegetation, scoured by strong winds, and dried by intense sun. Few visitors know that it is among the most complicated landscapes in the park. Geoscientist Jon Achuff has studied this area and believes the entire Longs Peak Boulderfield is moving on a glacier. His research is time consuming and strenuous, requiring him to carry delicate equipment in all seasons more than seven miles to the research site. This research effort is astonishing for another reason: Achuff is a volunteer.
The park's citizen scientists are amateurs in the best sense of the word - highly qualified experts who do their work in the park for "love, not money." Volunteer and principal investigator Rich Bray has led the butterfly monitoring efforts, donating some 6,000 hours to the effort. Not only do researchers like Bray give their own time, but they also help train others. Bray recruited and trained volunteer field assistants. The financial value of the contribution of volunteer scientists is also substantial. For example, Jon Achuff’s glacier studies would have cost the park or its partners approximately $35,000.
Supporting park research and providing exceptional educational experiences are the dual goals of the National Park Service’s research learning centers. The Continental Divide Research Learning Center found an exciting and rewarding way to reach these goals by recruiting citizen scientists to assist with park research activities.