Advocating for Rocky Mountain National Park from Colorado to Washington, D.C.

Two women smiling for a picture
Rep Diana DeGette & Carolyn Carlson

While most of the Rocky Mountain Conservancy’s impact as the official nonprofit partner of Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) and similar public lands happens right here in Colorado, another important role is to advocate for Rocky and other public lands with bipartisan elected officials at all levels of government.

Ian Stafford, Director of Stewardship and Policy for the Rocky Mountain Conservancy recently returned from Washington, D.C., where he and Carolyn Carlson, Director of Administration, participated in the National Park Foundation’s (NPF) annual “Hill Day.” The purpose was to educate elected officials and their staff on the accomplishments, challenges and goals of nonprofit conservation organizations and to request continued financial, administrative and legislative support.

Stafford wanted to highlight the impact the Conservancy’s philanthropic work has on Rocky Mountain National Park and other public lands in Colorado. Some 2022 accomplishments included improving 309 miles of trail, reopening the west side’s Green Mountain Trail in RMNP, research on the impact of fire to the trout population, and the delivery of a new Conservancy-funded search and rescue vehicle.

Ian Stafford
Ian Stafford

In addition to meeting with staff members for both of Colorado’s senators, Carlson met with Reps. Diana DeGette and Joe Neguse. Carlson thanked them for their support of the Great American Outdoors Act and addressed the need for affordable park housing, funds for deferred maintenance and shared the success of our growing Conservation Corps program. Because many of Colorado’s elected officials are already strong proponents of public lands, these work sessions are particularly detailed and productive.

Other benefits of the NPF’s Hill Day include networking with fellow conservation advocates to exchange resources and ideas, as well as opportunities to hear from and meet with National Park Service officials, according to Stafford. One of Carlson’s meetings at the Department of the Interior focused on the Conservancy’s dedication to getting underserved youth into the outdoors through partnerships with organizations like Environmental Learning for Kids, a Denver-based nonprofit that works to build an inclusive and diverse community of inspired environmental stewards by providing free programs for kids.

As an important partner to the Rocky Mountain Conservancy, the NPF provided travel support for Stafford to make his participation in the day’s events possible.

At the Conservancy, Stafford’s other responsibilities include leading the Conservation Corps and the recently added Fire Corps programs where young adults from across the country are hired for projects such as building and maintaining trails and reducing fire fuels in the park.

“We can quantify accomplishments such as how many miles of trail are improved and the number of acres where we’ve directly mitigated wildfire danger,” he said. “But more than that is the professional and human development in our Corps members. They become passionate stewards of public lands and move on from the Corps with strong experience and applicable skills to lead the next generation of conservation advocates.”

“This summer we will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Conservation Corps working here at Rocky and in surrounding National Forest lands,” Stafford continued.

Projects will include continuing work to rebuild the Longs Peak trail, rerouting the Green Mountain Trail on the west side to reconnect to existing trail networks and reduce the risk of erosion, restoring backcountry camp sites in wildfire-damaged areas, and rebuilding camp sites in Moraine Park Campground following RMNP’s major renovations. Stafford said other projects will include planting native seed grasses and flowers. He said Conservation Corps crews work about half of the time in RMNP and half in National Forest sites.

The Rocky Mountain Conservancy is the official nonprofit partner of Rocky Mountain National Park and promotes stewardship through education and philanthropy. Projects include building and maintaining trails, fire mitigation, acquisition and protection of land and cultural resources, sponsoring research and internships, and a wide range of educational programming ranging from Field Institute courses to RMNP’s Junior Ranger program.

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