Udall hears support for new national park

PHOTO BY CHRISTOPHER TOMLINSON—Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., and Grand Junction Mayor Teresa Coons stand before an audience at Mesa State College, where Udall sought comments about possible legislation upgrading the status of Colorado National Monument to a national park.

The idea of promoting Colorado National Monument to a national park won support — and strong calls for caution — Wednesday before U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo.

Udall, who last year floated the idea of the change, cautioned as well that the process was “not a done deal,” as one participant suggested.

Most of the 300 or so people who filled the ballroom at the Mesa State College Center appeared to favor the idea of changing the designation of the national monument.

“I think we’re all channeling John Otto,” Udall said, commenting on the support for changing the designation of the monument to a yet-to-be-named national park.

Otto led the effort to have the area overlooking the Grand Valley set aside as a national park, but instead saw President William Howard Taft designate the 20,000 acres of red-rock canyons and imposing spires as a national monument in 1911.

Udall hosted the meeting, saying he hoped to hear more from Grand Valley residents before he considers legislation to change that century-old decision.

One supporter of a park designation, 12-year-old Morgan Crouse, harkened back to Otto in a song she wrote urging the change.

Otto named the features in the monument for presidents, and Crouse picked up on the idea, offering the chorus of her song:

“Red rocks, monuments and canyons down below; the beauty of our monument will forever show. For a hundred years it stands today, as a tribute to our country and the American way.” Taft’s decision set the stage, said Jack Connolly, chairman of the Colorado National Monument Association.

“The monument has stood the test of time,” Connolly said. “Perhaps it’s time” to change the designation.

The current designation is costing businesses in the Grand Valley now, said Glen Gallegos, chairman of the board of the Grand Junction Visitor and Convention Bureau.

Having a national park instead of a monument within view of the valley would improve the economy by attracting tourists, Gallegos said, noting the bureau recently lost two buses full of tourists from Japan, who opted to stay in Montrose and visit Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and bypass the monument.

The Grand Valley also might see another payoff in the form of more research at a national park instead of a national monument, said Deb Kennard, a physical and environmental sciences professor at Mesa State.

Supporters of the monument should be careful that they don’t get more than they’re bargaining for, said Bill Wagner of Grand Junction. Bicyclists, hikers and visitors seeking solitude could well be “negatively impacted by the numbers of people that this designation will bring,” he said.

Sandy Peeso, who said she feared the decision already had been made, urged Udall to slow the process.

“There needs to be a lot more conversation going on,” Peeso said.

Supporters of the change appeared split on whether the area would be better managed by allowing only buses to traverse the monument on Rim Rock Drive.


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