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Astronaut Donates 40 Acres to This Stunning National Park

A longtime NASA astronaut and his family want others to enjoy their mountain property as much as they have. So rather than selling out to a developer, Vance Brand gave 40 acres in the Southern Rockies to the public.

Now his family’s land is part of the Rocky Mountain National Park, which they have always cherished. This tract is minuscule in comparison to the massive size of the national park. In terms of generosity, however, it’s a grand and inspiring gesture. Let’s learn more! 

About Rocky Mountain National Park

Established in 1915, Rocky Mountain National Park is one of four national parks in Colorado with the most annual visitors. The park claims more than three million visitors a year.

It ranks as the eighth-largest national park and is one of the highest, with some mountain peaks rising to over 12,000 feet. The park covers almost 266,000 acres, roughly 415 square miles. It has more than 350 miles of hiking trails.

This rugged, spectacular high country is home to the headwaters of the Colorado River and spans the Continental Divide. Most of it is pristine wilderness and a World Biosphere Reserve.

With fall colors and foggy mountains, a large bull elk remains vigilant and smells the September air in Horseshoe Park, part of Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado.

Where Is Rocky Mountain National Park?

Rocky Mountain National Park is in north-central Colorado, southwest of Fort Collins, and northwest of Boulder and Denver.

It lies between the cities of Grand Lake on the west and Estes Park on the east. There are four entrances to the park, three on the east and one on the west. The 48-mile Trail Ridge Road, built as a CCC project in the 1930s, stretches through the park.

Who Is Vance Brand? 

Brand, the retired astronaut who donated the land, is a native of the area. He grew up in the small city of Longmont, north of Boulder, and studied engineering at the University of Colorado. During those early years, he enjoyed camping, hiking, mountain climbing, and other outdoor activities in and around the park.

Brand flew jets as a U.S. Marine before becoming a test pilot and aeronautical engineer. He joined NASA in 1966 and rose through the elite ranks to play vital roles in the Apollo and Space Shuttle programs.

In 1975, he was the command module pilot during the historic first joint space flight between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. He also served as commander on three separate Space Shuttle missions. Those flights, two aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia and one aboard the Challenger took place in 1982, 1984, and 1990.

Why Did Vance Brand Donate 40 Acres to the Park?

Brand purchased the land in 1967 and planned to build a house but never did. He and his family donated the land because they didn’t want developers to build on it.

“It’s a pristine country. I’d hate to ever see this sort of thing disappear completely from America,” Brand said during a ribbon-cutting ceremony. “As far as our family is concerned, this is for the American people.”

They donated it to a nonprofit organization called Rocky Mountain Conservancy in 2019, transferring it to the national park. The transaction required approval from Congress, which they gave in January 2021.

Where Are the 40 Acres of Land Vance Brand Donated?

This newest portion of Rocky Mountain National Park slightly expands the eastern boundary in Tahosa Valley. It’s on the east slope of a mountain people call Estes Cone, about four miles from the summit of Long Peak.

This part of the park is about 9,000 feet above sea level. Other well-known features in the area include Storm Pass and the Eugenia Mine.

Have Other Private Citizens Donated Land to the National Parks Before?

It’s somewhat rare for individuals to donate land to the national park system, but it’s not unheard of. The practice of private philanthropy was critical in the early years of land conservation.

For example, a couple in California, Mr. and Mrs. William Kent, gave the land we know as the Muir Woods National Monument. Across the country, a group of individuals donated the acreage that eventually became Acadia National Park in Maine.

More recently, in 2016, entrepreneur and philanthropist Roxanne Quimby gave the government almost 90,000 acres in Maine’s North Woods region. Quimby made her fortune as co-founder of the Burt’s Bees line of personal care products. She hoped her donation would lead to an additional national park in Maine. Instead, she seems content to leave a national monument as her enduring legacy.

Rocky Mountain National Park Just Got a Bit Bigger

Compared to the overall size of Rocky Mountain National Park, Vance Brand’s land donation is a drop in the bucket. More crucially, however, it provides a natural buffer to keep development from encroaching on the park. 

His decision carries forward the spirit of preservation that created the park system over a century ago. Saving the land from development will allow more people to enjoy it in its natural state for years to come.

“To me the park is a wonderful place that must be preserved – and where possible expanded,” Brand has said. He has certainly done his part. With the donation from Brand and his family, Rocky Mountain National Park covers 265.847 acres.

Will you visit Rocky Mountain National Park on your next adventure? 

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