National parks aren’t always born of whole cloth. Their borders on the day they are established may continue to fluctuate and change according to the whims and efforts of special interest groups and individuals.
Rocky Mountain National Park is like that. It was established 100 years ago this year, yet has continued to change as small private, often historic properties caught within the park’s boundaries have been bought and turned to good use by the park. Now, finally, the last remaining piece of commercial property within the park’s boundaries is up for sale, and the park could use your help to secure it. The alternative is grim; a 40-acre plot of land that straddles the road just inside the park’s Fall River Entrance could ultimately be sold off to a private or commercial outfit with no interest at all in preserving the character of the park for future visitors.
At issue are the Cascade Cottages, a group of old structures I’ve barely noticed and had always assumed were already owned by the park service. In fact, the rustic buildings have been available for rent every summer to vacationers. If you look to your left as you enter the park, you’ll see them tucked well back in the trees.
Imagine, though, if that land were sold to commercial interests (it is already zoned commercial). Imagine a great glitzy lodge or inn dominating the view and extending across to the north side of the road to those rocky slopes that are home to so many bighorn sheep. Imagine the parking lots. And the traffic. The entire experience of slipping quietly into the park and on to Horseshoe Park to watch elk and sheep gather would be gone.
The original landowners were wise enough to include a provision that RMNP would get first refusal on buying the land. That provision is now in play. The park has until 2017 to raise a total of $3.6 million to purchase the 40 acres. The Rocky Mountain Conservancy has identified $500,000 from its own resources and has raised almost $1.5 million.
Larimer County Open Lands Program offered a challenge grant of $50,000 to the Estes Valley Land Trust (EVLT) and the Town of Estes Park to provide a collective donation of $100,000 to Rocky Mountain Conservancy for the purchase of the property. EVLT and Estes Park both have readily agreed to match this amount. But they are still short. And the park is still at risk.
If you’d like to help preserve this corner of the park as it is and ensure it does not become a giant, ugly commercial property or some millionaire’s mountain mansion, please contact the conservancy. And tell your friends. You can help save this beautiful part of the park.