In 2004 a legion of citizen scientists donated more than 6,500 hours to Rocky Mountain National Park research projects through the Continental Divide Research Learning Center. Research volunteers came from diverse backgrounds and worked on a variety of research activities, ranging from Eagle Rock students doing a Birds-In-Forested-Landscapes survey to retirees researching the history of the park’s buildings. Groups and individuals monitored vegetation recovery in a burned area, studied rare plant species, observed bighorn sheep behavior, counted elk, monitored air quality, and mapped vegetation for amphibian habitat.
Whether they are volunteers assisting researchers with a specific project or act as principal investigators, research volunteers work closely with park professionals to develop and complete research projects. Volunteer researchers extend the capacity of the National Park Service to develop the science necessary to appropriately manage park resources. For example, volunteers working with a university researcher observed the behavior of bighorn sheep, helping park managers to develop quantitative documentation of the influence of cars and people on bighorn behavior. Based on this, resource managers are developing a strategy for reducing stress on the animals when they attempt to cross a popular park road to access a mineral lick. (Learn more about this project).
Not only did the park benefit from citizen scientists, but volunteers also deepened their understanding of the complexities of ecosystems, learned about the quandaries of resource protection, and became active stewards of the park’s natural and cultural resources.