More than 400,000 visitors head to Colorado National Monument each year to hike, picnic and enjoy the vast views. To accommodate those visits, National Park Service rangers and a large pool of volunteers support CNM’s daily schedule.
In the 1930s, it was chronicled that the sole ranger had duties including chasing criminals, fighting forest fires and more. Today, six departments of rangers and volunteers help maintain, conserve and provide education.
“Being a ranger means being an ambassador,” CNM superintendent Lisa Eckert said. “They are here to ensure a safe and enjoyable visit and encourage people to come here in the future.”
INTERPRETATION AND EDUCATION DEPARTMENT
Karla Tanner, CNM’s chief of interpretation, and Annie Runde, chief of education, help visitors learn about and interpret the meaning of CNM’s rich resources. The education program started nine years ago serving 100 kids a year; it’s since grown to more than 9,000 students yearly.
Programs include daily geology interpretive talks at Independence Monument View, plus full-moon and dark-sky walks. Runde also works with educating students ranging from kindergarten to 12th grade in connection with classroom curriculum for local schools.
“To be a part of this team, you have to have enthusiasm for the area, its resources and people.” Tanner said.
CNM’s Saddlehorn Visitor Center is maintained by the Interpretation and Education Department staff, which includes an exhibit encompassing CNM, two 12-minute videos, a gift shop and knowledgeable rangers and volunteers. Stop in to pickup CNM’s Junior Ranger Activity Book; penned by Runde, it’s available for free at the Saddlehorn Visitor’s Center.
“I’m just here to create a next generation of stewards of parks to help experience and love them,” Runde said. “Without the students coming to the park, they won’t love or value them and learn about the resources.”
VISITOR AND RESOURCE PROTECTION DEPARTMENT
With hundreds of visitors at CNM every day, its federally protected lands need daily supervision. Mark Davison, CNM’s chief park ranger, heads a team of 20 seasonal and year-round rangers that provide search-and-rescue services, law enforcement and more. Rangers enforce laws established to protect the land and people visiting. They patrol Rim Rock Drive, picnic areas, hiking trails and campgrounds.
According to Davison, he also manages special permits for wedding events, commercials or bike tours.
“People often ask why is it necessary to have law enforcement,” Davison said. “But unfortunately, people commit crimes in national parks.”
He added that visitors, who are out of their comfort zones, often leave cars unlocked, leaving purses, wallets and other valuables in the open. This creates a perfect situation for theft.
CNM’s 20,000 acres of land, trails and buildings must be kept up by a team of more than 20 seasonal workers supervised by Dan Hallett, chief of maintenance. Volunteers from around the community also help, including young adults from Western Colorado Conservation Corps.
All members of the Maintenance Department ensure that not only the trails are maintained, but also check that restrooms are clean and working, lights and water systems are functioning, and roads are cleared after snowstorms and rockfalls.
To be a part of the maintenance team, Hallett seeks out men and women who are skilled in carpentry, maintenance and masonry.
“It’s for the person who takes pride in their work and know they contributed to something bigger,” Hallett said.
The team is currently working on finishing a quarter-mile segment of the Alcove Trail, across from the Saddlehorn Visitor’s Center; it will be handicap accessible, set to open in September. The trail will be on hard-packed ground, allowing wheelchairs, walkers or anyone else unable to use other trails to enjoy a hike. The trail will also bypass juniper and pinyon trees along with rock formations to touch and experience up close. An overlook at the end of the accessible trail is also featured.
SCIENCE AND RESOURCE STEWARDSHIP DEPARTMENT
Kim Hartwig, CNM’s chief of resources, manages natural and cultural features in the park.
For example, she makes sure buildings, walls and even Rim Rock Drive itself are maintained to protect the National Register of Historic Places on the list. The list ensures the buildings, walls and roads are held up to historic standards.
She also catalogs historical articles and pieces regarding CNM, providing research permits and more.
On the natural side, Hartwig inventories and monitors fossils, vegetation and animals.
Another major project managed by Hartwig encompasses surveying CNM’s bighorn sheep population, including sexing (determining whether an animal is male or female), counting and identification.
“We are a living laboratory,” Hartwig said. “We are trying to take care of this place and learning about its resources.”
To learn more about Colorado National Monument, visit www.nps.gov/colm.