Photos: A look back as Rocky Mountain National Park turns 100

January 24, 2015

Rocky Mountain National Park, one of the most popular destinations in Colorado, turns 100 years old this month.

Although it was scaled back by the time a bill establishing the park was signed into law on Jan. 26, 1915, by President Woodrow Wilson, it was originally conceived as a preserve that would have stretched from the Wyoming border all the way to Mt. Evans west of Denver.   It now encompasses a still-vast 415 square miles

A naturalist and homesteader named Enos Mills campaigned hard to get Congress to establish the park, often through writing like this:

“Nature gives the nectar of the Gods to those who leave the crowd and visit her alone. I see all her moods, all her changing scenes. Rambling the mountains by moonlight is an enchanting experience. In winter, the peaks stand in soft, white silence. The icy walls glow in tempered sheen. While on the snowy forest isles, are exquisite, moon-toned etchings of the pines.”

Mills first ascended Longs Peak, the tallest point in the park, when he was 15. He later led tours there. But the park Mills knew looked different than it does today, according to ranger Sam Forsythe.

“We originally started out with about 11,000 acres of private property in the park. There was a golf course in the park, swimming pool in the park, those kind of things. Today a lot of those inholdings were transferred over to the park and made into more natural areas,” along with a ski area.

Forsythe says the wildlife has also changed.

“About a hundred years ago we had no elk in this park.. they brought in about 50 elk from the Yellowstone area, and today they’ve really expanded. Predators today are protected; originally in this park they were not protected. We don’t have wolves or grizzly bears here due to that.”

But there are still mountain lions and black bears, he says.

People went to the park long before it was a national park, of course -- 10,000 years before, according to the Park Service. The Ute lived there seasonally, and later, gold miners came.

“There are a few old ghost towns, gold mining towns, LuLu City for instance, on the West side of the park. They lasted a few years and then they became the ghost towns they are today, slowly dissolving into the dirt,” says historian John Stansfield.

To celebrate the park’s 100th birthday, rangers in Beaver Meadows are cutting cake, and in Grand Lake, showing a new film about Rocky’s history. Celebrations continues through September -- the park was officially dedicated on Sept. 4, 1915. 

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the date Rocky Mountain National Park was officially dedicated. The current version is correct.

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