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Rapid ascent: Rocky Mountain National Park in the Great Acceleration, 1945-present




Boxell, Mark, author
Fiege, Mark, advisor
Bobowski, Ben, committee member
Howkins, Adrian, committee member
Lindenbaum, John, committee member
Orsi, Jared, committee member

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After the Second World War's conclusion, Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) experienced a massive rise in visitation. Mobilized by an affluent economy and a growing, auto-centric infrastructure, Americans rushed to RMNP in droves, setting off new concerns over the need for infrastructure improvements in the park. National parks across the country experienced similar explosions in visitation, inspiring utilities- and road-building campaigns throughout the park units administered by the National Park Service. The quasi-urbanization of parks like RMNP implicated the United States' public lands in a process of global change, whereby wartime technologies, cheap fossil fuels, and a culture of techno-optimism—epitomized by the Mission 66 development program—helped foster a "Great Acceleration" of human alterations of Earth’s natural systems. This transformation culminated in worldwide turns toward mass-urbanization, industrial agriculture, and globalized markets. The Great Acceleration, part of the Anthropocene—a new geologic epoch we have likely entered, which proposes that humans have become a force of geologic change—is used as a conceptual tool for understanding the connections between local and global changes which shaped the park after World War II. The Great Acceleration and its array of novel technologies and hydrocarbon-powered infrastructures produced specific cultures of tourism and management techniques within RMNP. After World War II, the park increasingly became the product and distillation of a fossil fuel-dependent society.


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