Former Astronaut Vance Brand Gives Rocky Mountain National Park 40 Acres, Calling It “Payback”

(CBS4) – A donation from a former astronaut could expand Rocky Mountain National Park’s 425 square miles. Vance Brand, the command pilot on the first U.S.-Soviet joint spaceflight, wants to donate 40 acres to the park.

Vance Brand served as the command pilot on the first U.S.-Soviet joint spaceflight. (credit: Vance Brand)

“I wanted to pay back for all the enjoyment I got out of the park,” Brand told CBS4.

The three US prime crewmen of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project lying in their couches in the Apollo Command Module trainer in Building 35 of NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, 25th February 1975. From left to right, they are astronauts Donald K ‘Deke’ Slayton, the Docking Module Pilot, Vance D Brand, the Command Module Pilot, and Thomas P Stafford, the mission Commander. The joint US-USSR space mission is scheduled to be flown in July 1975. (Photo by Space Frontiers/Getty Images)

Brand was born and raised in Longmont and the city’s airport is named after him — Vance Brand Municipal Airport. Brand spent many summers climbing Longs Peak and hiking the trails of Rocky Mountain National Park. Fifty years ago, he purchased 160 acres on the eastern boundary of the park for $32,000.

“A lot of beautiful trees up there, rock outcrops, it’s still primitive.”

Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park (credit: CBS)

With the blessing of his wife and kids, Brand wants to give the park a quarter of the land, which is adjacent to three popular trails. But it turns out, you can’t donate land that changes the boundaries of a national park without an act of Congress. So, Brand wrote a letter to Sen. Cory Gardner explaining his dilemma.

“You read the letter and you think, man, this is incredibly generous,” said Gardner, a Republican and Colorado’s junior senator. “This has been a part of his life, this means so much to him, he’s given so much already to the country through his service, and now he wants to give more.”

Sen. Cory Gardner

Sen. Cory Gardner, Colorado’s junior senator (credit: CBS)

Gardner introduced a bill to make it happen.

“This is going to make that visit to Rocky Mountain National Park even more spectacular because off, and through the efforts of his generosity,” said Gardner.

Brand now lives in California but he still visits the park every year. At 88 years old, he no longer climbs Longs Peak but for all the changes in his life, the park – and his love for it – have not changed.

(credit: Vance Brand)

“In short, it’s majesty and beauty.”

A grandpa with 22 grandchildren, Brand says he hopes future generations will enjoy the park as much as he has, and will preserve it for those who come after them.

“We’ve got to be mindful. We’ve got to take care of it,” said Brand.

Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park (credit: CBS)

Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat and Colorado’s senior senator, is co-sponsoring the bill with Gardner. Rep. Joe Neguse, a Democrat who represents Colorado’s 2nd Congressional District, has also introduced a companion bill in the House. Gardner said the legislation has no opposition and could be signed into law as early as next spring or summer.

Brand said the land was a “good investment” for him. It is now an incredible gift for Colorado and for America. Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the most visited national parks in the country.