Lounging in the 60s

Legacy of Mission 66 in Rocky Mountain National Park


Fall 1963 - Wirth announces retirement

January 1964 - Hartzog becomes Director

January 2001 - Beaver Meadows designated as a National Historic Landmark



Contemporary Impact and Criticism of Mission 66

From a logistical standpoint, Mission 66 was extraordinarily successful in Rocky Mountain National Park. Remodeled roads allowed for increased accessibility for family vehicles, while new parking lots reduced automobile crowding. Additionally, the town of Estes Park benefited economically from increased visitation, becoming the primary stop for overnight visitors to the park (Allaback, 2000).


Rocky Mountain National Park avoided much of the widespread criticism that befell Mission 66's building program, but still provoked some negative responses. Most critics derided the National Park Service's focus on infrastructural improvements over ecological and educational concerns (Carr, 2007). Modern roads and facilities allowed for greater visitor mobility, but the program contributed relatively little towards updating the park's interpretive programs or its forest management system. Historian Lloyd Musselman remarked that increased comfort and accessibility did not necessarily contribute any significant meaning to visitors' personal experiences and conservationists F. Fraser Darling and Noel D. Eichhorn noted that “Mission 66 [had] done comparatively little for the plants and animals” (Darling, 1967; Musselman, 1971). Indeed, the most stinging observations regarding Mission 66’s impact on Rocky Mountain National Park revolved around its long-term effect on the park’s preservationist credibility. Increased access raised the risk for environmental degradation, but also supported Conrad Wirth’s prediction that greater park visitation would invariably lead to greater awareness in park preservation (Bzdek, 2010).


The Legacy of Mission 66 in Rocky Mountain National Park

Despite initial success, many of Mission 66's accessibility improvements have struggled over the years to keep up with Rocky Mountain National Park's ever-increasing popularity. In 2016, the park set a new attendance record with 4,526,335 visitors; perennial issues of overcrowding and road congestion have re-emerged (NPS, 2017). Mission 66's most enduring legacy in Rocky Mountain National Park, however, is not found in the roads, but in the visitor centers.


All three centers still function as hubs for visitor congregation, but Beaver Meadows remains the project’s most revered architectural achievement. Mission 66 was often met with mixed reception throughout the National Park Service, but Beaver Meadows generally escaped such criticism. The building’s functionality and its ability to complement the surrounding landscape while embodying a modern aesthetic led to its designation as a National Historic Landmark in January 2001 (NPS, 2015). From its architecture to its furniture, Beaver Meadows continues to adhere to Mission 66’s goals of efficiency and access, and still serves as a popular gathering point for future adventures in Rocky Mountain National Park.


Related Objects to Explore

Krueger Stackable Folding Metal Chair; Oak Arm Chair; Trash Can

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