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.

Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at [email protected].

High Country News Classifieds
  • CANYONLANDS FIELD INSTITUTE
    Colorado Plateau Natural & Human History Field Seminars. Lodge, river, hiking options. Small groups, guest experts.
  • NATURE EDUCATION DIRECTOR
    Our mission is to inspire a life-long connection to nature and community through creative exploration of the outdoors. We are seeking an educational leader who...
  • DEVELOPMENT AND MARKETING DIRECTOR
    The Development and Marketing Director is a senior position responsible for the execution of all development and marketing strategies to raise funds and increase public...
  • DEVELOPMENT COORDINATOR
    Coordinates all Wyoming Wildlife Federation philanthropic activities. Tasks include identification, recruitment, and retention of donors, organizing fundraising events, and assisting with grant writing.
  • REALTOR NEEDS A REMOTE ASSISTANT
    This is a business assistant position, The working hours are flexible and you can chose to work from anywhere of your choice, the pay is...
  • CORPORATE & GRANTS PARTNER MANAGER
    Forever Our Rivers Foundation Corporate Partnerships Manager February 2020 www.ForeverOurRivers.org Forever Our Rivers Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, was formed in late 2016 with the mission...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Central Oregon LandWatch is seeking an Executive Director to advance our mission and oversee the development of the organization. Job Description: The Executive Director oversees...
  • WESTERN NATIVE SEED
    Specializing in native seeds and seed mixes for western states.
  • MEDIA DIRECTOR
    Love working with the media? Shine a spotlight on passionate, bold activists fighting for wild lands, endangered species, wild rivers and protecting the climate.
  • STAFF ATTORNEY - NEVADA
    The Center for Biological Diversity is seeking an attorney to expand our litigation portfolio in Nevada. Come join our hard-hitting team as we fight for...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Montana Wildlife Federation seeks an energetic leader to advance our mission, sustain our operations, and grow our grassroots power. For a full position description,...
  • HISTORIC COMMERCIAL OPPORTUNITY IN DOWNTOWN NOGALES
    Nogales. 3 active lower spaces and upper floor with lots of potential. 520-245-9000 [email protected]
  • CHUCK BURR'S CULTUREQUAKE.COM BLOG
    Change will happen when we see a new way of living. Thinking to save the world.
  • COMING TO TUCSON?
    Popular vacation house, furnished, 2 bed/1 bath, yard, dog-friendly. Lee at [email protected] or 520-791-9246.
  • DIRECTOR, TEXAS WATER PROGRAMS
    The National Wildlife Federation seeks a Director to lead our water-related policy and program work in Texas, with a primary focus on NWF's signature Texas...
  • SPLIT CREEK RANCH
    Spectacular country home on 48 acres with Wallowa River running through it! 541-398-1148 www.RubyPeakRealty.com
  • OJO CALIENTE COMMERCIAL VENTURE
    Outstanding location near the world famous Ojo Caliente Mineral Spring Resort. Classic adobe Mercantile complete w/living quarters, separate 6 unit B&B, metal building and spacious...
  • NEW MEXICO GILA NATIONAL FOREST HORSE RANCH
    43 acres in the Gila National Forest. Horse facility, custom home. Year-round outdoor living. REDUCED to $999,000, 575-536-3109.
  • EVERLAND MOUNTAIN RETREAT
    Everland Mountain Retreat includes 318 mountaintop acres with a 3,200 square foot lodge and two smaller homes. Endless vistas of the Appalachian mountains, open skies,...
  • COPPER CANYON MEXICO CAMPING & BACKPACKING
    Camping, hiking, backpacking, R2R2R, Tarahumara Easter, Mushroom Festival, www.coppercanyontrails.org.