Rocky Mountain National Park: 100+ Years of History

Learn about Rocky Mountain National Park’s fascinating past as the area prepares for its 100th Anniversary Celebration.

Photo by: Visit Estes Park The headquarters of Rocky Mountain National Park is located in Estes Park, Colo. "The community of Estes Park played an essential role in the creation of Rocky Mountain National Park in 1915, and continues to provide numerous ways for people to connect with the wilderness, wildlife, and wonder of the park today," says Barbara Hoppe, Rocky Mountain National Park 100th Anniversary Coordinator.

In September 2013, while the town of Estes Park and officials at Rocky Mountain National Park were planning its 100th Anniversary Celebration slated for the next year, the area was hit by an unexpected and devastating flood. But while the so-called "500 year flood" dampened and damaged businesses, it did not dampen the resiliency of the community, determined to rebuild well before the celebration begins.

Fran Grooters, an Estes Park native and co-manager of the Alpine Trail Ridge Inn, observed an outpouring of support. "Initially, lodging guests who were not able to come to the area, due to the flooding, donated their reservation deposits to the flood relief funds or to families in need," she says.

This spirit of preservation dates back 100 years to Estes Park's early days. Settler Joel Estes first wandered into the valley during a hunting expedition and soon called it home during the 1859 gold rush. However, after six years his family packed up and left for a warmer climate. By 1872, Estes' ranch had been reborn into the first hotel as more homesteaders were attracted to hunting opportunities in the valley.

In 1903, F. O. Stanley, co-inventor of the steam-engine vehicle the Stanley Steamer, came to Estes Park to improve his health. He stayed to invest his money in the town's future, opening the Stanley Hotel in 1909 (now famous – or infamous – as the inspiration for Stephen King's The Shining). He invested in road improvements and built an electricity plant, but was also forward-thinking in helping to establish an environmental association to protect the park's wildflowers and wildlife.

Others felt similarly about the area. Federal government employee and naturalist Enos Mills proposed the establishment of a national park, originally named the Estes National Park and Game Preserve. For the next several years, civic leaders duked against mining and logging opposition. On Jan. 26, 1915, environmentalists won out and Rocky Mountain National Park was dedicated.

Present day Estes Park will celebrate its history and re-dedicate the area that has played host to 31,000 visitors in 1915 and 3.1 million visitors today.

"The 100th Anniversary of Rocky Mountain National Park will celebrate the connections that have been made with local and national communities over the past 100 years," says Barbara Hoppe, 100th Anniversary Coordinator. Upcoming events from Sept. 4 2014 through 2015 include: a Centennial Speaker Series; Rocky Mountain Plein Air Painters demonstrations; hikes, climbs and wildflower walks with the Colorado Mountain Club, and more. Visit the calendar for complete details.

Despite the flood setbacks – both major roads into town were damaged – Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park will continue to play host to wildlife and people with a new mantra: "Mountain Strong."

"The community of Estes Park played an essential role in the creation of Rocky Mountain National Park in 1915, and continues to provide numerous ways for people to connect with the wilderness, wildlife, and wonder of the park today," says Hoppe.

"This is a time when we are all grateful to be part of this phenomenal community," says Grooters.

Caren Baginski is a freelance writer based in Denver, Colo.

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