Protecting the park: 40 years later, teen volunteers return to Rocky Mountain National Park

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ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK, Colo. -- Friday is Rocky Mountain National Park Day. The U.S. Senate unanimously voted to honor the Colorado treasure, 100 years to the day after the land was first dedicated.

But for one group of volunteers, every day in the park is praiseworthy. Members of the Youth Conservation Corps reunited earlier this summer at Rocky Mountain National Park to beautify their favorite place in Colorado, just as they did nearly 40 years ago.

"Even though it's been a long time, when we see each other again, we pick up right where we left off. So it doesn't feel like it`s been 35-40 years, it feels the same," Mike Gacnik said.

He first came to the park as a teenage boy as part of the YCC.

"The idea was to do projects that the park service could not get done," Gacnik said.

Back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, kids from all over Colorado entered a lottery and if chosen, they came to the mountains, lived in campgrounds for the summer and worked hard out in nature. Some had never even picked up a shovel before.

"We didn't just come visit and drive over Trail Ridge and see the sights, we actually went into the back country. We actually went into the park and got an appreciation for what this park is. And the beauty of this park: Part of the beauty of this park is contributing to its upkeep," Gacnik said.

Contributing to its upkeep is why, when they realized it was Rocky Mountain National Park's 100th anniversary, they knew it was time to come back and relive one of the most special times in their lives.

Linda Jalbert came as a YCC member in 1979.

“You know, it's been over 37 years, and it's a pretty amazing thing,” Jalbert said about her return to the park this summer.

That summer foreshadowed an entire career spent in nature for Jalbert. She went on to work 28 years as a National Park Service employee. Jalbert was one of 30 YCC alums who spent their reunion weekend digging out an old fence at the Trail River Ranch near Timber Creek Campground.

“The mission of the park service is to always kind of return it back to nature as much as possible, so that when you come to visit this place, you don't see the manmade, you see the natural,” Gacnik said.

Times have changed.

“Thirty-plus years ago we were younger and stronger,” Jalbert said.

But one thing that hasn't changed is their youthful wish to change the world, by keeping this little piece of it it as unchanged as possible.

The YCC alums are just some of the hundreds of people who work hard to preserve the park. This weekend, in a FOX31 Denver news special, we’ll take a look at the enormous efforts to keep an amazing part of Colorado so beautiful.

“Protecting the Park” airs at 9:30 p.m. Sunday and at 5:30 p.m. Monday.

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