Pro: Colorado National Monument should become a national park

 

There’s been a lot of hoopla and public meetings here in Grand Junction, Colo., about turning the nearby Colorado National Monument into a national park. My opinion is simply: Why not?

I know this is not a passionate position, but this isn’t a passionate subject. As a former national park ranger, I know that the public is confused about the difference between a monument and a park, while the truth is that there is little difference between them.

A monument is designated as such by the sole authority of the president of the United States, using powers conveyed by the Antiquities Act of 1906. A national park is designated by an act of Congress. That’s it. I have often heard of monuments being “upgraded” to park status, and though technically a park can be considered a more permanent designation, I am unaware of any monument designated by a president getting un-designated by an act of Congress.

In addition, a change in designation confers not one iota of additional protection, funding or restrictions. The only visible change is the name on the entrance signs. Some people I know say they’re concerned about the “new” restrictions that would be put into place. I tell them there would be no change, though I can tell they don’t believe it. My favorite response is from folks who say they’re afraid because they sure don’t want the federal government to become involved.  Um … go back to sleep!

I have heard it said that by designating such a small -- and I’ll say it -- a less than spectacular park that boasts views similar to the ones you can marvel at in Utah’s Canyonlands and Arches national parks, the park designation itself will lost its luster. I don’t see how one affects the other any more than I can see how same-sex marriage somehow magically affects the “sanctity” of opposite-sex marriage. Park status also would not change the number of employees. The rangers, staff and superintendent would probably stay the same, and the change in designation would not change the mission of their jobs one bit. Those onerous little rules that are in place now – like no dogs on trails – would stay onerous and in place; and rules that don’t exist now would continue to not exist. If visitors close their eyes as they drive by the entrance sign, they will never know the difference.  So why bother turning a monument into a park?

The answer lies in perception. Monuments … blah! Why bother to even slow down? Parks … Oooooh! Ahhhh! The West’s great natural splendor at its best! And with that change in public perception comes likely increase in visitation. And with an increase in visitation comes an increase in the amount of money spent in the area. I am no fan of the “industrial tourism” that fellow-curmudgeon Ed Abbey so accurately predicted, but all towns strive for a healthy economy.

A huge part of the Grand Valley’s economy is now derived from oil and gas extraction. It’s a moneymaker when it’s boom and not bust, and yet it’s hard to live with: Heavy traffic on the section of the interstate that runs through town, water and air degradation, well pads in unlikely and often inappropriate places.

Tourism can be added to a cleaner, less disruptive and more sustainable economy. Do I want heavier traffic? Of course not. But will there be noticeably heavier traffic in town? It’s hard to imagine there would be much difference.

The one argument I hear with any credibility is that park status would increase traffic through the current monument and thereby threaten the safety of bicyclists. The road through the monument was mostly carved out of sandstone by the Civilian Conservation Corps decades ago, and is so windy and twisty that if you drive over the edge, you die. I’m a bicyclist, and the ride through the monument is accurately described as one of the premier rides in the area. I have certainly heard true stories about near misses and vehicle-versus-biker collisions. My experience riding the monument is that drivers have their eyes firmly on the road because the cost of a mistake is deadly. In any case, I’m no fan of folks who have selfish reasons for doing or not doing something.

My input to Congress? Just do it. Hell, at least they’d being doing something!

Wayne Hare is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News(hcn.org). He is a retired, former grumpy ranger, and now a grumpy civilian in the Grand Junction area.

Steve Snyder
Steve Snyder
Jul 09, 2013 11:22 AM
Got proof that it involves no extra funding? (Not counting changing brochures, signage, etc.) In an era of continued NPS budget cuts, maintenance backlogs, etc., we don't need ANY more NMs converted to NPs, with any extra overhead and expenses. Beyond that, once a NM is "elevated," then it fights for a bigger piece of that's left, doesn't it?
Wayne L Hare
Wayne L Hare Subscriber
Jul 09, 2013 02:02 PM
Hi Steve. Thanks for your comments. Not sure what constitutes 'proof'. My years long understanding of monuments versus parks was that a change in designation did nothing to the budget. But to verify, I did call an NPS regional director - one level down from the NPS Director - and he verified that a change in designation did not automatically do anything to the assigned budget. And no, once the designation is changed (not 'elevated') the newly designated park doesn't go into some different bucket and fight for a bigger slice of what's left. Really, it's pretty much precisely as I said. Nothing much changes except the designation, and the public perception. In all likelihood the brochures would not get changed until they ran out. Yes, the portal signs would get changed. Probably one of the maintenance folks would place the word 'Park' over the existing word 'Monument' and be done with it, but dunno for sure. That part is just my guess.
Laurie Heupel
Laurie Heupel
Jul 09, 2013 02:20 PM
As someone who worked for the NPS for over 20 years, there is no extra funding that comes with the Park status. Having that status does not mean many changes basically except for the changes on the signs and media. There is no extra overhead or expenses for when a site is designated as a park. The site basically continues to operate the same. It is easier to create a monument than a park. The president has the ability to create a National Monument and this dates back to the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt. The Congress has to approve a park and then the bill is sent up to the president for signature. There is no increase in budget or staff when this happens and the budget does not change with that status.
Steve Snyder
Steve Snyder
Jul 09, 2013 03:19 PM
Wayne, thanks for the follow-up. Ditto on Laurie. I understand the difference in creation, with the Antiquities Act for monuments vs. Congressional approval for parks. That said, if this is nothing but a "status symbol" name change, with no guarantee of additional funds, and given that, on the "con" essay, it's noted that most trips to even Rocky are in-state tourists, certainly the case at CNM (allowing for some Utahns), then, why the push?

Let's still focus on that NPS budget first, then worry about what level of designation it has.
Jeremy Apodaca
Jeremy Apodaca
Jul 09, 2013 11:15 PM
"I am unaware of any monument designated by a president getting un-designated by an act of Congress."

Actually, there are a few monuments from long ago that were "deauthorized". Go here to see a partial list: http://www.nationalparkstra[…]commissioned-national-parks . The NPS doesn't like to talk about diminution of their turf, so you don't get to find out about this kind of thing from them.

However, there was one NATIONAL PARK that was deauthorized: Platt National Park in Oklahoma, a postage-stamp area that was wiped off the map and incorporated into the Chickasaw National Recreation Area in 1976. Now, whether this should ever have been a NP is debatable but it was a NP that ceased to exist by Congressional action. That had to have been a gut punch to the NPS, not unlike most new national monuments in the last couple of decades going to the BLM instead of to the agency that thinks it should be the sole purveyor of the monument game.

Says something about the anal management style and overbearing regulations that are the calling card of the NPS, things which tend to be rejected by westerners (Californians are not westerners so whatever goes on in that corner is not reflective of the real world).

Also, not all monuments were created by presidential proclamation. At least 25 were created by Acts of Congress.
Wayne L Hare
Wayne L Hare Subscriber
Jul 10, 2013 09:04 PM
Jeremy, good points and info that I hadn't known. Thanks. Your info supports something I have often said: There is no such thing as 'permanently protected' public land. Public lands designated as 'protected' remain so only as long as the public supports that protection. There is constant, never-ending pressure to reduce or eliminate public land protections. There are court battles every day. If the public supports the protection, then they have to stay vigilant and involved. Those that want to eliminate or reduce protections are VERY involved and vigilant.

Steve, given that some of the public doesn't want the Monument re-designated as a Park because, uh, they don't want the feds involved does lead me to think that the Monument is used as and thought of as our own little locally governed park. But the thinking behind the push that you asked about is that a change of designation would garner more national attention, visitation, and money. Mebbe. Mebbe not. That kind of info is above my pay grade. My guess would be that the folks who don't want it to become a park because of increased traffic have little to fear, and the folks that anticipate a bunch of tourist dollars flowing in will be dissapointed. And as an aside, NRA's, particuarly back in 1976, are and were managed largely by the Park Service. Think Glen Cayon...Lake Mead...Curecanti...Gateway...Golden Gate...

terri chappell
terri chappell
Jul 11, 2013 01:23 PM
Have very much appreciated the informed comments on this article. The writer's did their homework! Thank you. If you would like to learn more you can visit our website at www.gjforparkstatus.com. Sign your name in support of Colorado's 5th national park and the nation's 60th national park at our recently created online petition http://www.gopetition.com/p[…]t-the-nation-s-60th-n.html.

Terri Chappell
Grand Valley Region Citizens for a National Park
260-5242
Charles Quimby
Charles Quimby Subscriber
Jul 12, 2013 12:28 PM
Wayne said: "My guess would be that the folks who don't want it to become a park because of increased traffic have little to fear, and the folks that anticipate a bunch of tourist dollars flowing in will be disappointed."

As the writer of the so-called "Con" view, I would say we are in accord here.
Wayne L Hare
Wayne L Hare Subscriber
Jul 17, 2013 11:42 AM
Grin! ...and good to meet you Charles!