Democracy’s Mountain: Longs Peak and the Unfulfilled Promises of America’s National Parks: An Author Talk with Ruth M. Alexander

Estes Valley Library Fireside Theater

Event Details

In partnership with the Rocky Mountain Conservancy, we’re excited to bring you CSU professor Ruth M. Alexander for the launch of her new book, Democracy’s Mountain: Longs Peak and the Unfulfilled Promises of America’s National Parks. The book tells the history of Longs Peak and its climbers, highlighting how Rocky Mountain National Park, like the National Park Service (NPS), has struggled to contend with three fundamental obligations: facilitating visitor enjoyment, protecting natural resources, and managing the park as a site of democracy. While these obligations have often been treated as competing commitments, in recent years, the park and NPS have attempted to align them in policy and practice. In the book, Ruth explores the park’s shortcomings and successes in this arena, and ultimately argues that more work needs to be done.

After presenting on the book’s ideas, Ruth will be delighted to take your questions. We’ll have copies of the book for sale, and Ruth will be available to sign copies before and after the program.
About the book
At 14,259 feet, Longs Peak towers over Colorado’s northern Front Range. A prized location for mountaineering since the 1870s, Longs has been a place of astonishing climbing feats—and, unsurprisingly, of significant risk and harm. Careless and unlucky climbers have experienced serious injury and death on the peak, while their activities, equipment, and trash have damaged fragile alpine resources. As a site of outdoor adventure attracting mostly white people, Longs has mirrored the United States’ tenacious racial divides, even into the twenty-first century.
In telling the history of Longs Peak and its climbers, Ruth M. Alexander shows how Rocky Mountain National Park, like the National Park Service (NPS), has struggled to contend with three fundamental obligations—to facilitate visitor enjoyment, protect natural resources, and manage the park as a site of democracy. Too often, it has treated these obligations as competing rather than complementary commitments, reflecting national discord over their meaning and value. Yet the history of Longs also shows us how, over time, climbers, the park, and the NPS have attempted to align these obligations in policy and practice.
By putting mountain climbers and their relationship to Longs Peak and its rangers at the center of the story of Rocky Mountain National Park, Alexander exposes the significant role outdoor recreationists have had—as both citizens and privileged adventurers—in shaping the peak’s meaning, use, and management. Since 2000, the park has promoted climber enjoyment and safety, helped preserve the environment, facilitated tribal connections to the park, and attracted a more diverse group of visitors and climbers. Yet, Alexander argues, more work needs to be done.
Alexander’s nuanced account of Longs Peak reveals the dangers of undermining national parks’ fundamental obligations and presents a powerful appeal to meet them fairly and fully.
About Ruth M. Alexander
Ruth M. Alexander is Professor of History Emerita at Colorado State University. Ruth’s expertise as a teacher and scholar extends from the history of women, race, and politics in the United States to American environmental history and the history of national parks. In addition to teaching at CSU’s Fort Collins campus, Ruth has taught at the CSU Center in Todos Santos, Mexico, where she and her students use oral history interviews to explore environmental and social change in Baja California Sur, especially in response to tourism. Ruth was a founding member of CSU’s Public and Environmental History Center, and as a Principal Investigator on PEHC projects she has conducted research for Rocky Mountain National Park, Shenandoah National Park, Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument, Scotts Bluff National Monument, and Fort Collins Utilities. Most recently Ruth led a major oral history project for CSU on the impact of Covid-19 on the university’s student population. She is the author of The ‘Girl Problem’: Female Sexual Delinquency in New York 1900-1930 and co-editor with Sharon Block and Mary Beth Norton of Major Problems in American Women’s History: Documents and Essays. Her articles, essays, and book chapters have appeared in the Journal of Women’s History, the Journal of American History, and American Quarterly, and in two anthologies, Small Worlds: Childhood and Adolescence in America 1850-1950 and Sexual Borderlands. Ruth’s newest book is entitled, Democracy’s Mountain: Longs Peak and the Unfulfilled Promises of America’s National Parks.
More about the program
The presentation and Q&A will run from 6-7:30. Book sales and signing will be held from 5:30-6 and 7:30-8. This program will be in-person only, and will not be recorded. Presented in partnership with the Rocky Mountain Conservancy.