In today's world of scarce federal dollars, it takes a village of sorts to grow a national park. Rocky Mountain National Park took another step toward maturity recently, thanks to a fund-raising effort spearheaded by the Rocky Mountain Nature Association.
Like many other NPS areas, Rocky Mountain National Park doesn't own all the land within its authorized boundary, and privately-owned inholdings can raise a variety of concerns, including future development of those tracts. Such properties occasionally become available for purchase, but finding funds in a timely manner to add the land to the park is often a challenge.
A best-case outcome was achieved recently for a 3.89-acre parcel on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park, when the combination of a willing seller, a hard-working park partner and more than 900 donors came together to complete the deal.
The acreage may not be huge, but the parcel known as the Johnson Property is an important addition to the park. This plot of land on the park’s west side rests in critical habitat for wildlife and within the view-shed of the Continental Divide Trail. The property lies a short distance west of Trail Ridge Road, near the confluence of Bowen Creek and Baker Creek, and just upstream of the point where those streams flow into the headwaters of the Colorado River.
Rocky Mountain National Park had previously identified the parcel as a high priority for acquisition and enlisted assistance from Rocky Mountain Nature Association (RMNA) to raise the needed funds. The private inholding is within the legislated boundaries of the park, not far from the Kawuneeche Visitor Center.
A fundraising effort began in July 2012 and collected the $400,000 needed for the purchase; RMNA closed on the deal on February 15, 2013. The organization will transfer the land to the National Park Service, which will remove several small structures, power lines and a one-mile access road. The parcel will be returned to its natural state, enhancing valuable wildlife habitat and improving the experience of visitors to the area.
“We are incredibly grateful to everyone who contributed to this important project,” said Charles Money, Executive Director for RMNA. “Thanks to you, more land has been set aside for permanent protection in Rocky Mountain National Park. This effort is a perfect example of how many people working together can have a forever impact on our public lands.”
According to Superintendent Vaughn Baker, “It was particularly important for the park to acquire this land, because one mile of the access road to the property is part of the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail. With this acquisition we can remove motorized use from this section of the trail. We appreciate that RMNA was able to obtain the funds to accomplish this significant purchase.”
Rocky Mountain Nature Association has an ongoing effort to raise funds for the group's Land Protection Fund, which sets aside money for future land protection efforts. An Association spokesperson notes that property sales by willing owners often have a short time-frame for acquisition for protection. This fund allows the organization to move quickly to purchase available parcels before the opportunity is lost.
Since 1994, 18 parcels of land on the park's west side have been acquired for permanent protection. With acquisition of the Johnson Property, only two private inholdings totaling about 25 acres remain within this western corner of the park.