1895 Fall River Rd.
Estes Park, CO 80517
National Park: Rocky Mountain
Decades of planning, investment and hard work have gone into the experience a visitor receives at any national park. Parks must maintain trails and roads, build visitor centers, develop education programs and much more. All the while, the Park Service has the sacred duty of preserving its extraordinary natural resources, protecting all forms of life and ensuring the Earth’s health for generations to come. Funding from the federal government is frequently insufficient to meet these lofty goals and many national parks are fortunate to have non-profit partners that provide assistance. Their role and involvement varies by park, but without these support organizations, the National Park Service would not be able to provide the outstanding services and programming that visitors now enjoy.
One such organization is the Rocky Mountain Nature Association (RMNA), which aids Rocky Mountain National Park in spearheading development projects, providing environmental education and monitoring the Park’s resources. I recently had the pleasure of joining RMNA on one of their Field Seminar offerings. From fly fishing lessons to interactive workshops for children to bus tours of the area’s wildlife, RMNA provides a wide variety of high quality, engaging environmental education to all ages.
My group embarked on a half-day journey with ethnobotany expert Lynn Albers to discover how the area’s plants were utilized by native cultures. Tribes, such as the Ute and Arapaho, found practical use for nearly every flower, shrub and tree that surrounded them in what is now Rocky Mountain National Park. Ailments from indigestion to fevers could be remedied by employing a nuanced understanding of the healing capacities of the natural world.
Our day began with the group listening intently as Ms. Albers supplied us with a general history of native plant usage in the cozy seminar rooms at RMNA’s headquarters just minutes from the Park. Once equipped with a basic knowledge of plant biology, native culture and the area’s plant diversity, we hopped on to the RMNA bus and head into the Park. Ms. Albers led us on a series of short hikes where she would stop and talk about the historical, medicinal and cultural significance of the plants that surrounded us. Our group could ask questions, see and feel the plants we learned about, and gain a holistic understanding of the natural world’s importance to human life. After a short discussion back at RMNA headquarters, our group reflected on the day we had spent re-discovering our deep connections to nature. We were lucky to be afforded the invaluable opportunity to spend a beautiful day exploring Rocky Mountain National Park with a local expert who cared deeply for its resources.
Taking a fun and educational class, like those offered through RMNA, is a great way to enrich your vacation in the national parks. After exploring these wonderful places on your own, it can be fascinating to hear the science and history behind how they were created. Why can’t trees grow across a third of Rocky Mountain National Park? How does Old Faithful erupt with such amazing regularity at Yellowstone? What is responsible for carving the eerie hoodoos and spires at Bryce Canyon National Park? These are questions that, if answered, can turn a fun family vacation into a lifetime of inspiration and love for the outdoors.
If you find yourself planning a vacation to Rocky Mountain National Park, consider taking a class with the Rocky Mountain Nature Association’s Field Seminars program. And while you enjoy the Park, be on the lookout for all the ways RMNA provides valuable assistance at Rocky Mountain. With RMNA running the visitor center bookstores, providing the Park with volunteers and leading tours up Trail Ridge Road, it will be hard to travel very far without benefiting from their contributions. To learn more about the organization, please visit their website here. They, and their counterparts in other parks, are truly an invaluable partner to our Nation’s goals in conservation.