Rocky Mountain National Park grew by 40 acres on Monday, thanks to a donation of land from local former astronaut Vance Brand and his family.
The Brand family, RMNP staff and Rocky Mountain Conservancy officials gathered at the park Monday to celebrate the addition.
“To me the park is a wonderful place that must be preserved – and where possible expanded," Brand said. "The numerous hiking, camping, and (non-technical) mountain climbing experiences that I had there in my youth led me to purchase land along Rocky Mountain National Park’s eastern boundary in 1967. Over time my family has developed an appreciation of the natural beauty of the land and have encouraged keeping it as it is."
In 2019, the family donated the 40-acre parcel to the Rocky Mountain Conservancy. Late in that year, Rep. Joe Neguse introduced the Rocky Mountain National Park Boundary Modification Act. By December 2020, the bipartisan bill passed in the Senate and was sent to the desk of then-President Donald Trump, who signed it on Jan. 5, 2021.
The donated area is along the eastern boundary of the park and will increase protection for the park's high-elevation ecosystem. In addition, it will provide new connectivity through a scenic buffer between private property and the popular Estes Cone, Storm Pass, and Eugenia Mine trails, which connect to a large trail network across the park.
"I’m thankful that there were early national park enthusiasts like Enos Mills and Teddy Roosevelt who had the foresight to encourage establishment of Rocky Mountain National Park and our entire national park system," Brand said. "The National Park Service does a terrific job of maintaining our national parks. In short, my family and I sincerely hope that this donation to the national park will keep the land in its natural state for the benefit and enjoyment of current and future generations of Americans.”
Brand was born and raised in Longmont. After studying at University of Colorado Boulder and University of California Los Angeles, he became a Marine Corps officer, an aviator, a test pilot, an aeronautical engineer and an astronaut. According to park officials, Brand served as a command module pilot during the first U.S.-Soviet joint spaceflight in 1975 and as commander of three Space Shuttle missions.
The Vance Brand Airport in Longmont is named after him.
In 2021, 4,434,848 people visited RMNP, according to the National Park Service.