Natural resources and cultural resources are both important aspects of understanding Rocky Mountain National Park. The natural resources provide the stunning views and help make the park a hiker’s dream destination. The cultural resources provide the deeper interpretation of the land use and 10,000 years of continued human occupation of the space. This week I had the unique opportunity to work with both pieces of Rocky’s resources, each on distinctly different days, each doing very similar activities.
On Wednesday, I helped one of the GIS folks take an inventory of invasive plants in Moraine Park. We used ArcCollector, an application that allowed us to collect GPS pinpoints of patches and individual plants in Moraine. We collected data points for Musk Thistle, Canada Thistle, Yellow Toadflax, and Dalmatian Toadflax. The point of this activity is to map and track the movement of exotics around the park and to help the Vegetation Crew decide where to manually remove plants and where to spray plants.
On Thursday, I helped one of the cultural resource seasonals do an archaeological survey of a potential backcountry campground on the Colorado River District (CRD) side of the Park. Using the same application as I did with natural resources, ArcCollector, we surveyed the potential site and documented archaeological objects. We looked for both prehistoric and historic evidence of human interaction with the land. The Cultural Resource Crew uses the points we collected to understand the land use and ultimately inform how the Park will proceed with the potential campground.
Having the opportunity to do both of these activities back-to-back allowed me to reflect on the connection between natural and cultural resources. While out looking for plants, I unconsciously noticed the human impacts in Moraine Park: old fencing protruding out through tufts of thick, tall grass; a random cement slab near one of the creeks running through the park; half of an old rusted horse shoe. The same thing happened while looking for archaeological artifacts along one of the trails in the CRD. I noticed the vegetation along the trail, different from the vegetation seen on the Estes Park side of the park. I noticed the lack of trees in the potential camping area, most likely removed by humans during the last 10,000 years, or more recently for hunting camps in the late 1800s. I thought about the movement of plants around the Park, especially invasive plants and the role humans have in this disbursement of seeds.
Essentially, I realized, the natural resources we have learned to know and love cannot exist without the influence and understanding of the cultural resources. Much like the debate within psychology, nature (natural resources) and nurture (cultural resources) are intertwined, dependent on each other, not stand alone traits. Even though the Park categorizes them into two separate spheres, they are more like a Venn diagram, meeting in the middle, working together towards the same goal: understanding Rocky Mountain National Park.