Former astronaut Vance Brand is seeking to donate 40 acres of land to expand Rocky Mountain National Park, and on Tuesday Sen. Cory Gardner introduced the required legislation to make it happen.
Brand, a Longmont native and graduate of the University of Colorado who served as commander on space shuttle missions in 1982, 1984 and 1990, donated the land his family owned to the Rocky Mountain Conservancy a year ago with the intent for it to be transferred to the National Park Service. Land acquisitions by national parks require acts of Congress, and the legislation introduced Tuesday is the first step in the process. Sen. Michael Bennet is co-sponsoring the legislation.
The parcel, which Brand purchased in 1967, is located four miles northeast of Longs Peak on the eastern boundary of the park. When he was a high school student in Longmont and later in college, Brand spent several summers working in Estes Park. He estimates he has climbed Longs Peak, one of Colorado’s most prominent fourteeners, more than a dozen times.
“I was elevator boy at the Stanley Hotel one year, and I worked at the Plantation cafe as a busboy,” Brand said in an interview with The Denver Post. “I really took the opportunity with my friends to hike around the park. Climbed Longs Peak quite a few times and (hiked) across from Estes Park to Grand Lake. The first hike I did up there was as a Boy Scout. So I’ve been over a lot of the trails in the park, and I just think it’s a great thing for the American people to have such a magnificent place to hike and climb and enjoy.”
The parcel his family is donating would provide a buffer between private land and three popular trails in the park: the Storm Pass, Estes Cone and Eugenia Mine trails. It also provides safe corridors and habitat for wildlife.
“This land is entirely undeveloped, so it will not increase the deferred maintenance of the National Park Service in any way,” Rocky Mountain Conservancy Executive Director Estee Rivera Murdock wrote in a supporting letter to Gardner. “The land is beautifully forested with aspen and pine, and threaded with quiet, meandering creeks.”
U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse will introduce companion legislation in the House, according to a statement by Gardner’s office.
“Astronaut Vance D. Brand is not only an American hero, but also a Colorado hero,” Gardner said in the statement. “I’m incredibly proud to introduce this legislation with Sen. Bennet and Congressman Neguse to respect this hero’s wishes and make this donation official.”
In addition to his space shuttle missions, Brand was the command module pilot on the Apollo-Soyuz spaceflight in 1975, when the spacecraft docked with one from the Soviet Union. That mission was the symbolic end to the space race between the two superpowers and was the last U.S. spaceflight before the space shuttle program.
Brand said his family is making the donation in appreciation to the American people for the time he spent in the park.
“I just have good memories of my times up there, and I think it was farsighted in the early 20th century when the park was set up,” said Brand, who lives now in Tehachapi, California, but still holds annual family reunions in Estes Park. “Truly it is payback. The people own the park. This is just a very small addition.”
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