Rocky Mountain Ownership Correction and Boundary Modification
STATEMENT OF SHAWN BENGE, ACTING DEPUTY DIRECTOR, OPERATIONS, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE SENATE ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS, REGARDING S. 3331, A BILL TO MODIFY THE BOUNDARY OF THE ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK, AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES.
MARCH 4, 2020
Chairman Daines, Ranking Member King, and members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to provide the Department of the Interior’s views on S. 3331, a bill to modify the boundary of the Rocky Mountain National Park, and for other purposes.
The Department supports S. 3331, which would authorize the addition of an important tract of land to Rocky Mountain National Park and also resolve a longstanding ownership issue within the park.
S. 3331 would authorize the Secretary of Interior to accept a donation of a 40-acre parcel of nonFederal land located adjacent to the eastern boundary of the park. The addition of this land would enhance recreational access and connectivity through a scenic, natural buffer between private lands and three popular trails: Estes Cone, Storm Pass, and Eugenia Mine Trails. These three trails connect to, and are part of, a large trail network offering more than 350 miles of trails to the park’s 4.6 million annual visitors.
The addition of the 40-acre parcel would also add protection for the park’s Alpine Tundra Ecosystem. Alpine tundra, which makes up more than one third of the park, is a unique ecosystem that supports more than 300 plants and animals from bighorn sheep to butterflies that live in high elevations. Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the highest elevation national parks in the nation, with elevations ranging from 7,860 feet to 14,259 feet above sea level.
S. 3331 would also authorize the Secretary of the Interior to exchange a 0.18-acre parcel of park land for the same amount of private land in order to resolve a land ownership issue within the boundary of the park. In the 1970s, the National Park Service purchased land surrounding a private inholding. An error in the bank’s legal description incorrectly located a 0.18-acre parcel in that purchase. As a result, the parcel the National Park Service acquired included a family cabin, and the private owner acquired a vacant lot, not the cabin site.
Since the error was discovered, the National Park Service has been working with the owner to correct the legal ownership and exchange the parcels. However, this exchange cannot be done within agency policy since the two properties are of unequal value. In the interim, the family continues to use the cabin through a Special Use Permit. This proposed legislation would permanently resolve this issue and ensure the intent of the original purchase is met.
Mr. Chairman, this concludes my statement. I would be pleased to answer any questions you or other members of the Subcommittee may have.