Salazar tells monument crowd he backs park status
Colorado National Monument can’t become a national park soon enough for U.S. Rep. John Salazar, D-Colo., and other supporters of the upgrade.
“You have my full support,” Salazar told more than two dozen people in the maintenance building at the east entrance to the monument as an autumn storm raged outside. Wind and rain forced Salazar’s meeting with the Colorado National Monument Association out of the Devil’s Kitchen picnic area and into the shelter of the maintenance garage.
It might be possible to promote the monument to a national park administratively, Salazar said, should no one object to the idea of changing the designation for the 20,534 acres of rust-colored canyons and monoliths, which span nearly 2 billion years of Earth history.
It’s something he’s investigating with the Department of Interior, which is headed by his younger brother, Ken Salazar.
That, monument Superintendent Joan Anzelmo said, “would finish the work John Otto started 100 years ago.”
Monument officials are planning a New Year’s Eve fireworks display on Rim Rock Drive to commemorate the designation of Colorado National Monument by President William Howard Taft and kick off a yearlong celebration of the event.
Previous efforts to improve the status of the monument have fallen prey to battles over hunting, grazing and wilderness, many of which were resolved in the establishment of the McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area to the south and west.
The proposal to change the monument involves nothing more than a new name, with no new policies, expansion of the territory or other changes that previously sparked fights, Salazar noted.
“We’re not even asking for any money,” Anzelmo said.
The monument, meanwhile, is the conduit by which some $20 million in tourism dollars enter the Grand Valley economy, according to monument statistics.
The payoff for the Grand Valley would be in increased tourism, Salazar said.
There’s no doubt that despite its small size relative to the large national parks of the west, Colorado National Monument still meets the criteria for a national park, Salazar said, citing its “superlative opportunities for public use and recreation” as well as its scientific merit.
Although its elegant sedimentary formations, escarpments and striking colors garner most of the attention of visitors, the monument also has park-quality fossil and paleontological features, hanging canyons unique to the area, petroglyphs reflecting human presence for 10,000 years and Rim Rock Drive itself, a monument to human ingenuity and engineering skill, according to a summary of ways in which the area meets the standard for a national park.
Grand Junction Mayor Teresa Coons told Salazar that the City Council is unanimously in favor of park status and will be drafting a letter to that effect.
In the meantime, Pat Bishop, vice chairwoman of the Colorado National Park Association, will coordinate efforts to marshal public support for the change of status.