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ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK, Colo. (AP) — Rocky Mountain National Park has had its ups and downs during the past century. In the 1940s, gas rationing cut attendance, and the park is still trying to recover from devastating floods in 2013.
On Monday, the park marks its 100th anniversary, celebrating a record number of visitors last year who were enjoying one of the nation's crown jewels.
For Colorado historian Tom Noel, Rocky Mountain National Park is the state's best brand.
"It epitomizes the image of Colorado," Noel said. "Mountains are everywhere, from our license plates to our public-relations materials."
Park attractions include many miles of hiking trails, and the 14,260-foot-high Longs Peak challenges even the best climbers year-round, sometimes requiring helicopter rescues.
Not everyone was in favor of the park. Local citizens like Freelan Oscar Stanley, who opened the legendary Stanley Hotel in 1909, were pitted against powerful proponents of timber, mining, hunting and grazing.
A six-year fight required six bills presented to Congress and five revisions of those bills, the Denver Post reported Sunday (http://tinyurl.com/qylhlpn ).
The leader of the successful campaign was Enos Mills, a writer and nature guide, who moved to Colorado because of its clear air that helped him cope with health problems.
In 1889, Mills traveled to California to see the Pacific Ocean, and on a beach in San Francisco, he ran into the famous naturalist John Muir, who later became a role model and encouraged Mills to follow his dream of creating Rocky Mountain National Park.
Excitement accelerated in 1907, when Stanley brought his famous Stanley Steamers to town. They met travelers at the train station in Loveland and whisked them up to Estes Park much faster than the laborious stagecoach journey up Big Thompson Canyon.
The park was finally established on Jan. 26, 1915, by President Woodrow Wilson. It covers 415 square miles of climbing trails and tundra, and it sits on both sides of the Continental Divide.
During the past 100 years, the park has added campgrounds, roads, visitor's centers, a trail system and many programs and recreational options.
The number of visitors hit 682,000 in 1941 then dropped to 124,000 in 1942. Visitation remained lower during World War II when families were split and Americans were rationing gasoline. The park bounced back, and in 1948, the park broke the 1 million-visitor mark.
The national park ran into another pothole when devastating floods rampaged through the Front Range in 2013.
After the floods, the Federal Highway Administration stepped in to repair Old Fall River Road, one of the biggest reconstruction projects. The road is expected to reopen on July 4.
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