What's in a name? Controversy, as I learned about 25 years ago when I began editing a newspaper in Breckenridge, Colo. I called one local attraction what I'd always called it -- "Dillon Reservoir."
The nearby Dillon Chamber
of Commerce told me that it was scenic "Lake Dillon." I argued that
it was not a natural alpine lake, but just a manmade supply
facility for Denver. We compromised; thereafter the Summit County
Journal called it "Lake Dillon Reservoir."
similar, though on a bigger and more serious scale, could be
happening to the name of the water stored upstream of Glen Canyon
Dam, commonly known as Lake Powell.
According to Russell
Martin's fine history of the project, "A Story That Stands Like a
Dam: Glen Canyon and the Struggle for the Soul of the West," it was
christened in the spring of 1959 by Floyd Dominy, just before he
was promoted to director of the U.S. Bureau of
Republicans wanted to name it for President
Dwight D. Eisenhower. Democrats pushed for Sen. Carl Hayden of
Arizona, who had long championed his state's water projects against
John Wesley Powell was too far in
the past to be partisan, and "Powell Reservoir" and "Powell Lake"
didn't sound quite right, so Dominy settled on "Lake Powell,"
Martin wrote. Powell, a one-armed Civil War veteran, floated and
explored the canyons of the Colorado River in 1869 and 1871, and on
those trips he named Glen Canyon.
The Powell name angered
Edward Abbey, who wrote in "Desert Solitaire" that "The impounded
waters form an artificial lake named Powell, supposed to honor but
actually to dishonor the memory, spirit, and vision of Major John
Wesley Powell ... Where he and his brave men once lined the rapids
and glided through silent canyons 2,000 feet deep the motorboats
now smoke and whine ..."
However, even Powell believed in
impounding water throughout the West, although he later became the
patron saint of whitewater river rafting guides.
there's a Coalition to Rename Lake Powell, headed by Nancy Jacques
of Durango, Colo. She points out that "lake" is usually applied to
a natural body of water, and "reservoir" to an artificial site.
Further, the U.S. Board on Geographic Names does not like
duplicates, and long before the dam at Glen Canyon, there was a
Lake Powell -- in Colorado's Rocky Mountain National Park, up at
the start of the Colorado River.
Its name most likely
comes from an 1868 Powell trip, when he and four other men made the
first recorded climb of 14,255-foot Long's Peak. They came in from
the west, on a route that passed this little lake.
basis, and the use of "lake" for a "reservoir," Jacques petitioned
the Board on Geographic Names last March. "Unlike Lake Powell, Glen
Canyon Reservoir is not a duplicate," she said. "It's accurate
because it calls a reservoir a reservoir, and it reminds us of what
is under the water. Place names should tell us where we
Page, Ariz., sits next to the dam, and it's easy
to tell where people there stand, according to Chris Sheid, editor
of the weekly Lake Powell Chronicle. In a recent editorial, he
wrote that the proposal comes from "a group of people, many of whom
don't even live in Arizona ...(who)want to come in and change
something that local people and agencies decided on a long time
The newspaper's Website found 92 percent of those
surveyed opposed. "Some of the groups supporting the name change
are groups that want to drain the lake," he said, "and of course
that's not going to be popular in Page --that lake is our
livelihood." The proposed name change, though, "might aid those
people who want to drain it, since it might be easier to get
support for draining a reservoir instead of a lake."
Jacques said that's not the case, even though many supporters would
prefer the canyon to the lake. And it shouldn't be up to just the
people of Page, "since this was a federal project for the whole
She's urging people to just start calling it
Glen Canyon Reservoir, no matter what the Geographic Board rules
when it gets around to holding hearings and announcing a
Anybody willing to try my old compromise with a
chamber of commerce, and use some mouthful like "Lake Powell Glen