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Know the West

Black Canyon National Park?

  If Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, R-Colo., gets his way, he will leave behind a legacy.

A bill moving rapidly through the U.S. Senate would redesignate the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Monument as a national park and expand its current 20,766 acres to 30,000. Campbell, the bill's sponsor, has been pursuing this legislation for several years, but has failed in every attempt. Now, with growing national and local support, chances of its passage are good.

Many environmentalists oppose the bill because of its ambiguous language about hunting, grazing and off-road vehicle use. These activities would continue in some areas of the new national park and within the adjacent 57,000-acre National Conservation Area to be managed by the Bureau of Land Management. Environmentalists say these uses are incompatible with the mandate of the national park system.

"I oppose any national park legislation which allows grazing," says David Orr of the Sierra Club. "It dilutes the preservationist orientation of our national park system." Ironically, some ranchers also oppose the park measure because they fear their grazing allotments would expire if the bill passes.

Allan Belt of the Montrose BLM office agrees that the bill doesn't adequately address uses like grazing and motorized recreation, but he says that a management plan - to be completed within four years of the bill's passage - will deal with those issues fully.

Locals have raised concerns about increased traffic, potential development and pressure on agricultural lands that may result from national park status. But many local governments, chambers of commerce, and citizens' groups endorse the bill, confident that these problems will be minor in comparison to the economic boost the park would give the area.

Some are more skeptical, fearing a degradation of the rural qualities of the area. Says Gunnison County resident Frank Culbertson, "There's already enough people without it being on everyone's list of "must do" national parks."

* Catherine Lutz