Humans have had a presence in the area that is now Rocky Mountain National Park for thousands of years. There is evidence of human activity in the park area from as early as 10,000 years ago, when Native Americans began to hunt and explore the fertile land.
In 1803, the United States government acquired the Louisiana Purchase, which included most of the land that is now Rocky Mountain National Park. The first visitors after the acquisition included mostly fur trappers and explorers. As the 19th century progressed, miners, homesteaders, ranchers, and hunters began to inhabit the area as well.
The Grand Lake Cemetery opened in 1892, before Rocky Mountain National Park was established. Because the cemetery was opened before the park, the cemetery bears the distinction of being the only active community cemetery within a U.S. national park.
In 1909, a naturalist, guide, and local lodge owner named Enos Mills began several years of traveling the nation to lecture, lobby, and advocate for the creation of a new national park. Mills’ efforts came to fruition on January 26, 1915 when President Woodrow Wilson signed the Rocky Mountain National Park Act into law. Rocky Mountain National Park became the 10th national park in the United States.
As visitation increased to the park after World War I, park superintendents and rangers began building comfort stations, museums, and trails to better accommodate visitors. With the Great Depression of the 1930s came the Civilian Conservation Corps, whose efforts included the planting of trees, management of wildlife, and construction of more roads, trails, and buildings.
It was also during the 1930s that the construction of Trail Ridge Road was completed, with the road opening in 1932. Trail Ridge Road connected east and west entrances to the park for vehicular visitors, and also provided a spectacular drive that showcases the park: through forests, across meadows, and over the open tundra of the high country.
During World War II, park visitation decreased dramatically. After the war, the Baby Boomer generation brought a surging increase of visits to the park. It was around this time that new kinds of facilities, called visitor centers, were built. At these visitor centers guests could talk to rangers, watch movies and attend seminars, and gain other info about the park.
Visitation continued to grow throughout the 1960s and 1970s, and the park grew as well. Assigned backcountry campsites, shuttle buses, and additional roads, trails, and facilities were added. The park adopted a more conservation-oriented approach to managing everything from wildlife to wildfires as well.
Today, the park is still a popular tourist destination, with over 3 million visitors per year. The town of Grand Lake continues to serve visitors as well, proudly offering lodging, dining, recreation, and other services to park tourists.
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