Research for Rocky Mountain National Park

I am extremely passionate about the outdoors and therefore, our national parks. A dream of mine would be to work for the National Park Service one day and spend all my days outside. Therefore, when I given the opportunity to do research in RMNP this week, I jumped at the opportunity.

This week, several of my peers and I joined the “Parks Portal to Learning” program presented by CSU’s public land history center. This partnership provides CSU’s history students to do historical research in national parks. This year, I was accepted into the program as the first undergraduate participant to conduct a research project on the rising Park visitation in recent decades. For our research, we did a “re-photography” process in which we found old photographs of the park service and re shot them to present change over time. Our management findings are as follows-



The issue of expanding visitation in Rocky Mountain

National Park perennially challenges park staff to carry

out the paradoxical National Park Service mission.

Repeat photography illustrates that the tension in the NPS mission statement is not a new phenomenon and that historically, the park succeeded in balancing both visitors and resources. Historians offer a unique perspective on the changes and continuities seen in visitors’ experiences, staff and visitor safety, park operational capacity, and resource protection. This Parks as Portals report offers recommendations to bolster the efficiency of future park management strategies in the face of astonishingly high visitation.

What did repeat photography of visitor centers reveal about the history of visitation at RMNP?

• Repeat photography uncovers a history of NPS successes and challenges in balancing visitor enjoyment and preservation of natural resources.


• Preservation of resources is hindered by increased visitation without increased education.

• Visitor safety is jeopardized because the limited available staff are needed to mitigate effects of operational capacity.

• Visitor access is limited due to congestion and the limited availability of parking that negatively affects overall visitor experience.


• Effective trail placement and park infrastructure protects and fosters the rehabilitation of trampled alpine tundra.

• Continuous visitor access to the unique tundra ecosystem.

• Maintain consistent visitor interest, despite congestion.


• Visitors are the solution to the problem through education that inspires visitor stewardship.

• Create universal signage to welcome an increasingly diverse audience and disperse visitors more evenly throughout the park.

• Use existing park resources to make information more accessible through culturally-focused exhibits.

• Improve visitor experiences by increasing accessibility.


• The NPS should use repeat photography as a tool to tackle the impending issue of increasing visitation.

• Repeat photography at Alpine Visitor Center made clear that an interdisciplinary approach is crucial to lasting success.

Also if you’re interested, I attached a link to another park blog I wrote for CSU on the issues of visitation for Zion National Park in Utah.

Zion National Park visitation blog

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