Winter comes early in the high country, not only for the plants and animals in Rocky Mountain National Park, but also for the staff and for park operations. Around September or October, depending on the weather, we start the battle to re-open Trail Ridge Road when snowstorms or ice close it. Eventually, we lose the battle and Trail Ridge Road closes for the winter. The average date when Trail Ridge closes for the year is October 23.
Another indication that winter is on the horizon is that park seasonal staff and volunteers "migrate" to warmer climates and other jobs. Less than one third the number of people are on staff in the winter from the summer peak numbers. Those that remain are very busy reporting what was accomplished, being trained, performing essential winter tasks, operating the park, and preparing for the next summer season.
What are some of the essential jobs in running the park in the winter? While Visitor Center hours are shorter in the winter, there are helpful, informative staff available to help you with your questions. The Information Office staff are busy providing information to help people plan their next visit. When you call the park Information Office staff, you talk to a real human being seven days a week, summer or winter, thanks to a largely volunteer staff. Maintenance staff are busy getting the park ready for winter play activities and keeping the park's roads open. Buildings not in use during the winter must be shut down, and those open all year must be protected from the effects of a freezing, windy climate. Visitor and Resource Protection staff conduct search and rescues, assist motorists with car problems, and respond to the unfortunate occasional poaching incident. Resource Management staff are busy battling Chronic Wasting Disease, planning for next year's revegetion efforts, controlling non-native pest species, and working with partners to evaluate the effects of the elk herd on vegetation in the park. Applications for Research Permits reach a peak in December and January, and research activities go on throughout the winter. Park Interpreters are busy evaluating the programs presented during the summer and providing snowshoe tours, full moon walks, and Saturday evening programs to winter visitors.
While some may view winter as a quiet season, the staff at Rocky Mountain National Park are busily working to protect the park's resources and toward making your next visit your best visit.