Rocky Mountain National Park – New Deal New Day

In 1933 Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal created jobs for young men during the Great Depression, employing about 3 million men during its nine-year tenure. Work crews travelled the country for nearly a decade performing manual labour, mostly related to conservation of federal and state natural lands jobs while earning about $30 per month.

At a wonderous 12,183 of elevation, Trail Ridge Road was one such project and today is still the highest continuous paved road in the United States. The actual name of the road was derived from the Native Ute route with construction beginning in September of 1929. Prior to that time, the only option for automotive travel through Rocky Mountain National Park as the Fall River Road that opened in 1920. It was a one-way, unpaved slender road regularly compromised by endless snow slides from the cavernous winter snow.

In April of 1928, Congress appropriated $450,000 of funding for the Trail Ridge Road project and after lengthy, harsh years of work and effort, the road was completed in July of 1939. The road was built in two sections by different contractors. C. A. Colt of Las Animas, Colorado completed 17 miles of the route between Fall River Pass and Deer Ridge. L. T. Lawler of Butte, Montana completed the portion connecting to Grand Lake.

In addition to the actual road, New Deal crews completed several projects in Rocky Mountain National Park including the construction of the parking barrier walls that many see when they drive through the park.

With time and exposure to the extreme winter conditions, many of the historic walls were in dire need of repair. In August 2016, skilled masons excavated and repaired the historic landmarks, methodically unearthing previous rock work nearly buried by time. Each wall was first photographed for reference then carefully dugout to ensure all stones remained intact. Each rock was then removed, one by one, numbered, then stacked on pallets so that workers knew their exact place when they reassembled the walls. The process was understandably slow with some of the boulders weighing over 300 pounds. On a good day, workers returned up to 10 rocks onto the new walls.

Work and maintenance of the original barriers continue throughout the route today. Many who drive through the park may not notice, but the teams who performed the work undoubtably have a special connection and appreciation for the New Deal crews that build the walls 7 decades earlier.

Tracy Navarrete

2019-08-30T09:52:41+00:00