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University of Missouri

Rocky Mountain Magic Show

Jerry Frank explores the making of Rocky Mountain National Park, which celebrates its centennial this year.

Rocky Mountain National Park landscape

Rocky Mountain National Park, which celebrates its centennial in 2015, welcomes more than 3 million visitors every year. History professor and Mizzou Advantage faculty fellow Jerry Frank wrote Making Rocky Mountain National Park: The Environmental History of an American Treasure. Photo by Jacob W. Frank

Rocky Mountain National Park celebrates its centennial Sept. 4, 2015, and anyone who wants to learn more need look no further than Jerry Frank. The assistant professor of history at MU has one of the country’s largest collections of Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) documents, which he used to write Making Rocky Mountain National Park: The Environmental History of an American Treasure (University Press of Kansas, 2013).

As an environmental historian, Frank studies relationships between humans and places. RMNP fascinated him because of the two forces at work in making the national park: tourism and ecology.

“As Americans, we have this idea of nature that excludes humans,” Frank says. “For it to be natural, humans can’t go there, can’t be there, can’t live there.”

So, decades ago when the National Park Service acquired dozens of historic log cabins in the middle of the park, the service removed them and restored the area. Visitors today would never know that part of the park had a human history.

“In that sense, national parks are a bit of a magic show because there is a fantastic amount of human control and activity there, but it is done in such a way that it hides the fact it’s being done,” Frank says. Other behind-the-scenes management practices include reducing the increasing elk population and implementing prescribed fires.

The park’s centennial — and Frank’s in-depth look at the natural and manufactured making of the park — present an opportunity for park management to reflect. “It’s a chance to think critically about what the park is and to ask what the next 100 years should be like.”