Con: Colorado National Monument should not become a national park

 

As a close neighbor and regular user of Colorado National Monument in western Colorado close to Grand Junction, I suffered a sharp attack of NIMBYism when I heard of a 2011 proposal to turn one of the nation’s oldest national monuments into one of its smallest, newest national parks.

I blanched at the prospects of tour-company motor coaches imperiling cyclists on the winding, narrow route through the park. I dreaded a cluster of water slides and curio shops draped like tasteless bling around a natural jewel.

According to surveys by a study panel appointed to gauge community support, I wasn’t alone. Only about 40 percent favored a change to park status. Another 40 percent howled in outrage against, while 20 percent just shrugged. Given the lack of enthusiasm, last year the group told its sponsors, Colorado Democratic Sen. Mark Udall and Republican Rep. Scott Tipton, that it would not forward a recommendation.

Apparently, that was the wrong answer.

Early in 2013, supporters began a new campaign based on local pride and tourism to counter the area’s energy-related boom-and-bust cycles. But while I’m OK with pride, the economic claims struck me as overblown.

According to Park Service reports, the three national parks created in the region since 1994 have not brought marked visitor growth after being upgraded from national monuments. Furthermore, national parks attendance is flattening overall, with declines at many parks masked by modest increases at a few mega-parks. The reasons: Cheap fuel for extended automobile vacations is history, the age of the average visitor is rising, and today’s youth have different ideas about vacation.

In short, the national park label cannot transform a small monument from a drive-through tourist experience into an overnight-stay sensation. Even granting a 10 percent visitation lift -- a rate not exhibited by other monument-to-park transitions -- the new revenue produced would be the equivalent of one McDonald’s store’s annual sales. That’s hardly “critical to stabilizing the local economy,” as claimed by one park advocacy group.

In Arizona’s Saguaro National Park, according to a case study published in Park Science,“The vast majority of current visitors are local recreationists, with the number of bicycles now approaching the number of cars” on one popular route. A study of Rocky Mountain National Park, situated close to the urbanized Front Range, found much the same thing: 46 percent of its non-local visitors came from within Colorado.

Looking at all of the nation’s national parks, 29 percent of visits were day trips by local residents, with another 40 percent consisting of day trips from residents at least 60 miles away.

The evidence suggests that the modest attendance bump from park status and limited overnight stays just wouldn’t have much impact, economically or otherwise. Nonetheless, two years after naming the first committee, Udall and Tipton introduced a new “community-driven” process to draft legislation creating the park. Now, supporters of the change have vaulted into the driver’s seat.

Speaking for those of us riding in the back of this vehicle, I hope the new group will think critically about what the Grand Junction area already has going for it and separate that from wishful thinking about a beloved landmark.

May they accurately weigh the stimulus value of a few seasonal, low-wage, tourism jobs. May they accept that air quality isn’t just an issue for the energy and agriculture industries; it also affects outdoor recreation, temperatures, scenic views, and ultimately, real estate values. And rather than focus purely on how park status might affect residents, they might consider the reality that houses continue to sprout up right next to a wonderful place of natural beauty that needs more protection, not more development.

Clearly, there’s a risk of a dissonant outcome. Consider Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in the heart of Utah’s popular canyon country, where it’s a challenge for a visitor to find a place to stay or a friendly set of directions. Or think of the tacky Dollywood-outlet-mall entrance at the heavily visited Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The Grand Valley is already the region’s educational and health-care center, and it’s developing a reputation as a cycling and wine-tasting mecca. Its scenic views and recreational opportunities attract lifestyle retirees, business owners and professionals who build houses, buy cars, seek medical care and support local institutions. These new residents reflect the changing economy in the West, where non-labor income constitutes more than one-third of all personal income.

Tourism’s fine, if that’s all you have to sell. But boosters here should build on the proposition that accessible public lands by any name are a year-round amenity in an already vital community. They don’t have be called “national parks” to be protected as national – and local – treasures.

Charlie Quimby is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News(hcn.org). He is a writer and retired marketing agency owner who lives in Grand Junction. “Monument Road,” his novel set in the Grand Valley, is set for release in November.

Steve Snyder
Steve Snyder
Jul 09, 2013 11:20 AM
Also, in an era of continued NPS budget cuts, maintenance backlogs, etc., we don't need ANY more NMs converted to NPs, with the extra overhead and expenses. Period.
terri chappell
terri chappell
Jul 09, 2013 05:42 PM
As a volunteer organizer for Grand Valley Region Citizens for a National Park I read Charles Quimby's opinion on elevating the Colorado National Monument to a national park with interest. Our ever growing list of supporters include people whose families have spent generations living, working, farming and ranching in the Grand Valley, the cities of Fruita, Palisade, and Grand Junction, local businesses (including fruit growers and winery owners), leaders like Tillie Bishop, Josh Penry, Tim Foster, Jamie Hamiliton, Warren Gore, Bruce Benge and Jay Seaton, local Chambers of Commerce, avid bicyclists and hikers and numerous residents whose homes border the Monument.
From the start our group has cited several reasons to support or “push” for national park status for the Colorado National Monument. Number one, the man who spent years carving out its most impressive trails, John Otto, circulated the first petition to make it a national park in 1907. Then, like now, every major business leader signed on in support. A back log in Congress prevented our Canyons from achieving national park status but President Taft was impressed enough to intervene and use his powers to make it a national monument. Otto spent the rest of his life writing letters to have it established as a national park. There is undisputed historic community precedence for this effort to create a national park.
Second, our Monument does something most don't. It meets every exacting National Park Service requirement to qualify for national park status. It's thousand year old Pinion trees, archaeological remnants dating back 10-thousand years, petro - glyphs, rare dinosaur foot prints and fossils, magnificent formations, and 26 mile road FDR's Civilian Conservation Corp carved out of sandstone walls make it unique in the world.
It is an added bonus that national parks do in fact attract international and national tour groups which only target national parks. They currently land at Grand Junction Regional Airport then immediately depart for Arches National Park taking their tourism dollars with them. Delta tourism officials tell us visitors to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park average stays of 4 to 6 nights. Headwaters Economics and Summit Economics have reams of data confirming the economic benefits of national parks.
  Quimby, on one hand blanches at "motor coaches imperiling cyclists" and dreads "water slides" and "curio shops" while at the same time opining that three national parks created since 1994 have not brought "marked visitor growth" and contends "park attendance is flattening" with some national parks down (masked by those where attendance is up). So….what’s your concern, Mr. Quimby? Too many people, not enough or…is that just NIMBYism talking?
The unscientific GJ Chamber poll Quimby cites was initially taken to gauge what residents did not know about the impact of park status...not to gauge how many supported. With no formal public education campaign short of a few poorly attended open houses, not surprisingly the poll showed many residents were unaware of the facts. We established www.gjforparkstatus.com to answer questions based on facts experts gave to the study group and Congressional researchers and the National Park Service confirmed, along with hours and hours of our own research. We find that when most people know the facts, they support national park status. The Grand Junction Chamber which created that poll and represents about 950 Grand Valley businesses recently signed a resolution supporting park status.
 Nothing ever happens without some risk and doing nothing often poses the greatest risk of all. I've spoken to countless citizens and business owners in areas with national parks and have been duly impressed by their love of and enthusiasm for their national parks. To a person, they wondered at the suggestion their national parks do not benefit their local economy and quality of life. Unfortunately, our "vital" Grand Valley community is currently suffering unemployment a full point higher than the state average in May and the highest (June) foreclosure rates among the state's 12 metro areas. Sales tax and use revenues are down 3.4 percent in June. Lodging tax revenues are also down. If we can help to the tune of the profits of one McDonald's store (about 2 and a half to 3 Million dollars per year)by elevating our beautiful national monument to a national park, at virtually no cost to tax payers... we believe it to be a critical addition to our economy. But don't ask us, ask the business owners who have worked so hard for park status because they believe it is critical to their long term survival. On every level we believe adding the words "national park" to the Colorado National Monument is simply the right thing to do for our canyons, community, history and generations to come. We thank and are immensely proud of Congressman Scott Tipton, Senator Mark Udall and the diverse five member group who are helping chart the course of draft legislation to make our Monument a national park. They are people of enormous integrity and we applaud them for researching and focusing on the facts and community concerns. There is no water park proposed, no curio shop and not a single recorded incident of motor coaches harming a cyclist, even when they peaked at 500 in 1991 (last year only 125 coaches visited). No one will be shocked to hear national parks also attract high tech businesses, retirees and the best of medical and teaching professionals. Thanks to all of you who have signed your name to creating the nation's 60th national park and achieving John Otto's 102 year old dream. Despite what his website says, perhaps Quimby is yet willing to look beyond his "own ideas" and be persuaded. I hope so. Maybe, if you love a person or place enough...there's a chance you CAN change the world or make someone's life better, Charles. The important thing is that you care enough to try.

Terri L. Chappell
Grand Valley Region Citizens for a National Park
260-5242
Jeremy Apodaca
Jeremy Apodaca
Jul 09, 2013 11:26 PM
That was impressive. One sentence opposing a national park on a sound and obvious fiscal basis (which is indisputable when you look at the status of NPS areas), gets the James Michener reply to justify why logic should be abandoned for a dream. This is precisely why the nation is faltering since dreaming has become more important than getting a grip on things that really matter.
terri chappell
terri chappell
Jul 10, 2013 10:25 AM
Sorry, Jeremy but the facts are important and it's a dream many of us are passionate about seeing through to fruition and one that does really "matter". I was responding to the article by the way, not the response. Status change would come at virtually no cost to taxpayers, it brings no new regulations or staffing, so your fiscal argument is quite disputable. In fact, odds are very good it will GENERATE revenue for NPS and our local economy. We appreciate the opportunity to present the facts and keep the dialogue going.
Charles Quimby
Charles Quimby Subscriber
Jul 10, 2013 08:00 PM
My piece doesn't say CNM should NOT become a national park. That was a conclusion drawn by an editor who read the piece and wrote the headline.

My opinion is that supporters of the change have difficulty making a coherent argument that doesn't rely on appeals to history, emotion and the authority of local boosters. That would be okay if they didn't seem so oblivious to the real, larger issues relating to park use, surrounding development and the mutual impacts that occur at the interface between protected lands and a growing community.

The new committee sets writing a park bill as its goal after a non-partisan commission leading a year-long process resulted in a no-recommendation. That makes me worry the people writing the bill have an agenda rather than a big picture view.

I'm particularly bothered by blithe claims about economic benefits supported by anecdotes.

For example, I checked the tours of numerous companies that do National Parks tours in the region. Except for one, they start or terminate in Phoenix, Salt Lake, Las Vegas or Albuquerque. The one company that does shuttle tourists from Grand Junction airport to a very nice resort near Moab runs approximately 8 trips a year with a maximum of 42 participants each.

Assume the company did extend the tour to start from a Grand Junction hotel. Many travelers are couples so the likely impact is well fewer than 300 rooms for a single overnight. Annually. Do the math.

If this group pushes through the Parks bill, I'll survive. I do not think the water slides will come because instead of relying on my initial emotion, I did research. And anyone who thinks it'll be a no-brainer-good-deal for the town should do the same.
Charles Quimby
Charles Quimby Subscriber
Jul 10, 2013 08:09 PM
Oh, and sorry to be a pill, but the average McDonald's franchise produces about $2.7 million in sales, not "profits."

So you see the problem with the economic benefits case.

This movement is about belief, which is wonderful. But once you squeeze those annual sales through the low-wage, low-margin hospitality industry in a valley of 120,000 no one will notice the difference.
Kurt Angersbach
Kurt Angersbach
Jul 11, 2013 07:53 AM
After having read Charles Quimby's article and the associated comments, I was wondering if Steve Snyder or Jeremy Apodaca (or any of the other comment authors) had additional data defining how much more it costs to operate a park unit as National Park versus a National Monument? If this type of information is available, and if there is a significant difference in costs, are these extra costs offset by additional funding granted to National Parks and not to National Monuments? Thanks very much--I'm curious to learn more about this.
terri chappell
terri chappell
Jul 11, 2013 01:06 PM
Hi Kurt, Just FYI the National Park Service operates its parks and monuments under the exact same rules and regulations. According to NPS officials the change would not result in additional costs or on the other hand additional funding. The Colorado National Monument Association is a great resource for more information. The newly created Pinnacles National Park is also emblematic of the impacts of status change in that it has resulted in no increased costs and received no additional funding. It is however attracting more foreign tourists as national park status immediately confers inclusion in all national park tour brochures, inclusion in articles about national parks as well as a spot on Rand McNally maps which highlight national parks. It's hard to put a dollar figure on that. Quimby left out that our appeals are importantly in large part based on the Monument's inherent qualifications for national park status. I'm glad he didn't say it should not become a national park. It should. And again, there is ample research detailing the economic benefits of national parks to other areas. The Grand Junction Visitor's and Convention Bureau estimates the loss of tours from just one company, Tauck International (which currently by passes our area) at $300,000 dollars per year. I'm sure Grand Junction Regional Airport could handle more tours if a national park here drew them. Those who stay are sure to find our wineries, bike paths, rivers, golf courses and mountains and love them as we do before leaving for home or other national parks. Thousands more bypass our Monument on I-70 and never know what they've missed. It's reasonable to suspect some might stop for a national park.
  As a mom of two I can say our sun drenched community would LOVE a water park...but if one ever comes I'll be the first to line up behind Quimby and others to keep it far away from our canyons. This is a community effort led by our citizens, the cities of Fruita, Grand Junction, Palisade, local wineries, ranchers, farmers, shop owners, Chambers of Commerce and local organizations. The only clear and openly stated agenda we have ever had is achieving national park status. We are not oblivious at all to larger impacts. Development came to the base of our protected lands when subdivisions were first allowed to hug it's borders. Mesa Land Trust has done admirable work acquiring still vacant parcels. Anyone concerned with future development outside the monument or potential national park's borders and jurisdiction should join them. The current five member group helping draft national park legislation is also bi-partisan. The original study group members all state they were never given a directive or mandate to make a decision, but simply to study the facts. That's why we picked up where they left off and the issue has moved on. It would be lovely for every single resident to sign their name to this historic effort but we know every National Park has had at least some detractors on the way to reaching park status. In every case I think most will agree, Americans are so lucky supporters managed to win the day.