Rocky Mountain National Park's sheepish new logo is a ram job

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Here at the Wild-Urban Interface Desk, we're puzzling over the new logo just unveiled by Rocky Mountain National Park in celebration of its centennial, chosen two years early from close to a hundred entries. As you can see, it's a highly retro design, strong on pine cones and columbines and the prominent display of a bighorn sheep's backside -- a sign that the park at 100 is looking backward more than forward.

That's not to fault the nostalgic artistry of the logo's designer, Carol Welker, a Dallas graphic artist who says she drew heavily on her fond memories of childhood visits to the park to "make a bold statement about the respect the park deserves as well as the many reasons its preservation calls for celebration." Welker is simply tapping into a vision most RMNP visitors share, an idealized vision of megafauna at play in pastoral glens beneath purple mountains' majesty. That urge to connect with the western wilderness of a bygone era, perfectly preserved, is what continues to make Rocky Mountain one of the most popular destinations in the entire national park system.

But that's part of the problem, isn't it? The National Park Service is terrific at marketing its most accessible crown jewels, but not so great at acknowledging that increasing accessibility leads to hordes of visitors with widely varying expectations, overuse and degradation of the resource. Rocky Mountain is a ninth the size of Yellowstone but draws more visitors, and its proximity to the Front Range megalopolis creates a number of other quandaries, including rising nitrogen levels from pollution that are altering the alpine vegetation. The central question, as posed in my 2004 feature "Loved to Death," comes down to simple math: Can wilderness survive, in any meaningful way, with three million visitors a year and another three million polluting neighbors at its doorstep?

A truth-in-advertising logo for the park's centennial might feature the lowly pine beetle, which has reduced great swaths of the forests on the park's western side to gray hulks. Or a teeming elk herd in desperate need of predators or contraception. Or traffic stacked behind Winnebagos on Trail Ridge Road or hikers lining up to use the solar toilets along the crowded ascent of Longs Peak. Something, anything that acknowledges how fragile the park's treasures have become under the triple assault of overuse, pollution and climate change.

Yes, the logo is supposed to be a work of celebration, not a scolding. We get that. But it would be nice to have something more than an appeal to nostalgia to present to potential visitors. It would be smart, in fact, to give those visitors some idea of how the park plans to survive the next hundred years, and how they can help -- instead of butting those concerns aside.

More from our Calhoun: Wake-Up Call archive: "Rocky Mountain National Park wants you to get wild for its centennial."

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