New Research Opportunities in Rocky Mountain National Park

Title: New Research Opportunities in Rocky Mountain National Park
Author: Cheri Yost, Park Ranger, Rocky Mountain National Park
Publication: The Outcrop, January 2003, p. 8, 14

Because of their unique protected status, national parks provide excellent research opportunities to a broad range of scientists. The parks also need science to help park staff make better management decisions and to provide interpretive information for park visitors. To foster and advance research in national parks, the National Park Service has established a dual goal: “Parks for Science” and “Science for Parks.”

As with many national parks, Rocky Mountain has struggled to increase its research program, limited by constraints on park staffing and researcher housing. Two years ago, the park hired a full-time research administrator, and, with the spring 2003 opening of McGraw Ranch Research Center, the park will provide new living accommodations and work space for researchers. This shift toward science in parks developed from the Natural Resource Challenge, a 1999 initiative that aimed to bring more science-based management to parks. The Natural Resource Challenge has three objectives: to foster active, scientifically sound management of parks; to involve the scientific community at large in providing scientific information and using the parks as laboratories; and to engage the public as partners in resource preservation through education.

The McGraw Ranch Research Center, as part of the newly established Continental Divide Research & Learning Center, will provide logistical support to researchers and educational opportunities for the general public. Rocky Mountain National Park, in partnership with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, is rehabilitating the historic McGraw Guest Ranch. The $2,000,000 project is paid for by fee demonstration funds and donations from the National Trust, the Rocky Mountain National Park Associates, and private individuals.

The McGraw Ranch facility will be open year-round and will provide semi-private rooms to researchers. The main house has common gathering space, kitchen facilities, a dining room, a workroom, a meeting room, laundry facilities, and an office for Continental Divide Research & Learning Center personnel. Another building has computer ports and a small library. Three double cabins have two rooms with a shared bath.

In addition to opening the McGraw Ranch Research Center, the Continental Divide Research & Learning Center attempts to make the park more accessible to researchers. A new system consolidates the permit and reporting process into one system, making summary reports and annual accomplishments available to the general public. Each fall, the park’s research administrator, Dr. Terry Terrell, compiles a list of research needs and posts it on the web (see address below). As the digital applications come in, Terrell reviews them and recommends permits for approval by park management.

The Continental Divide Research & Learning Center asks researchers to share in its education mission as well. Several researchers have presented their projects and findings at public conferences held each spring and fall. Next year the Rocky Mountain Nature Associates Field Seminar program hopes to have five field days with the park’s researchers. But informal sessions are also always welcome. In August, Jon Achuff, the park’s glacier complex researcher, took a group of park staff and volunteers from the Colorado Mountain Club into the field. Volunteers are eager to help with research in the park because it provides an excellent educational opportunity. Currently, the glacier project is the only active research in a geology-related topic.

Rocky Mountain National Park accepts unsolicited research proposals. If you are interested in reviewing research opportunities in the park, or would like more information about the existing facilities and the permit process, visit the park’s research web page,