An elk on Trail Ridge Road looks out over Rocky Mountain National Park with Longs Peak in the distance.

Rocky Mountain National Park – A Brief History

Enos Mills imagined a national park that stretched from the Wyoming border to Mount Evans west of Denver. With the financial support of Estes Park resident F.O. Stanley, a tireless Mills lectured across the country and lobbied Congress. After a six-year fight, President Woodrow Wilson signed the bill on January 26, 1915, that established Rocky Mountain National Park.

The Denver Post thanked Mills for his vision and declared him “The Father of Rocky Mountain National Park,” though the Park was a third the size that Mills had envisioned.

Stephen Mather, the first director of the National Park Service (NPS), promoted a rustic design of the park’s buildings so they blended with their natural surroundings. Today, ten backcountry buildings sharing that rustic style are listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Appointed superintendent in 1921, Roger Toll added Gem Lake, Deer Mountain, and Twin Sisters to the Park. A year later he hired Jack Moomaw as the park’s first year-round ranger, in those early years the only ranger on the east side during the winter. Work on Old Fall River Road was completed in 1920, allowing visitors to make automobile trips to the Park and return to Denver the same day. Car travel became so popular that the Park finished work on Trail Ridge Road in 1932 to handle the increased traffic.

During the Great Depression, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) built roads, trails, and buildings and fought fires in the Park. They also searched for lost hikers and designed museum exhibits.

After World War II, baby-boom families overwhelmed park facilities, with visitation increasing from 3.5 million visitors in 1931 to more than 30 million visitors in 1949. To meet the demand, Congress approved the Mission 66 program to improve services by the National Park Service’s 50th anniversary. One of those projects was the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center, which was built in the Frank Lloyd Wright style in 1967. Their visitors could watch a movie, talk to a ranger, and learn about the Park.

Today, Rocky Mountain National Park protects 415 square miles and has 359 miles of trails, 150 lakes, and 450 miles of streams. It boasts 77 mountains that are more than 12,000 feet in elevation and is home to bighorn sheep, black bears, coyotes, elk, mule deer, and moose.

With 252,085 of the Park’s 265,795 acres designated as wilderness, it is no wonder that Rocky Mountain National Park is a crown jewel of the National Park System.

Written by Steve Mitchell
Freelance Writer

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