Fear and economic focus confuse 
Colorado National Monument debate

“Fear is the cheapest room in the house.  I would like to see you living in better conditions.”

– Hafez

14th century Persian poet

This is a different column than one I might have written absent some recent experiences.

I’ve pondered writing again about the efforts to get the Colorado National Monument reclassified as a national park, but I wanted to attend two recent meetings before deciding.

I did sit in the back of the room and listen at last Tuesday’s meeting sponsored by Friends of the Colorado National Monument.  An out-of-town trip prevented me from taking in the previous weekend’s session with Sen. Mark Udall and Rep. Scott Tipton. 

In preceding weeks, I also was part of a conversation involving former state Sen. Tillie Bishop and Club 20 chief Bonnie Peterson and had email exchanges with rancher Warren Gore, all members of the group Tipton and Udall asked to look into the issue.  I also heard from former Monument superintendent Joan Anzelmo prior to retired National Park Service employees entering the fray.

It’s no secret I’ve been a supporter of making the monument a national park. Enough so, apparently, that it prompted one attendee to ask, after Tuesday night’s meeting, “Are you going to crucify us?”

No nails or crosses or thorns.  I’ll keep it in the vein of another comment, in that same post-meeting conversation after I said I didn’t know if I’d be doing another column on this issue. 

“I hope you will,” I was told.  “Because the way you put things, it’s like talking to a neighbor.”

I’d happily accept that as my epitaph.  So, I’ll try to be neighborly.  This’ll be a lament, not a crucifixion.

There are real concerns being raised, including problems with handling increased traffic on confined roads and in confined spaces as well as the ability to handle increased operation and maintenance expenses if park status increases visitation. They deserve a hard look and a thorough discussion.

But, it seems to me, all the air in the room is being sucked up arguing over false issues. 

How many times do we need to be reminded that access to Glade Park was settled in the courts decades ago?  Or that air quality standards are no different for national parks than for national monuments?  Or that proposed legislation addresses both worries and others?

Missed in all the worry over possible misuse of federal authority is one fact. We’re more vulnerable to any real or imagined excesses, including presidential designations, today than with preemptive authorizing legislation that would limit that authority. 

Would opponents rather have their fate in the hands of President Obama, as it is now, or take their chances with a divided Congress, one in which both Udall and Tipton will have to cooperate if change is to occur?

There was a fair amount of illogical card stacking Tuesday evening, speculative worries about increased visitation (curious, given a presentation claiming statistics from other new parks showed declines or only very slight increases) and boundary expansions (prohibited in the proposed legislation).

Retired NPS employees are the latest bogeymen, assigned supernatural lobbying powers after their recent gas-on-the-fire pronouncements that proved once again the perfect is the enemy of the good.  In reality, they pack no more and arguably less punch than Club 20, the Chamber of Commerce, the energy industry, conservation groups, competing “friends” groups and other active forces.

Proponents share the blame, as responsible as opponents for the unlikely union of bicycling former chamber chairs, well known Realtors and anti-government activists speaking against park status last Tuesday evening.

There’s been entirely too much talk about supposed economic benefits and too little about landscape values that rival many existing national parks, even if John Otto’s turf isn’t quite Yosemite, Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon. 

And does anyone else recall that it was exactly this type of community discussion and limiting legislation that gave us the pioneering nearby National Conservation Area later renamed after the participating then-congressman who’s now a leading opponent of park status?

“Our doubts are traitors and make us lose the good we oft might win by fearing to attempt.”

— William Shakespeare, 
from “Measure for Measure”


Jim Spehar hopes there’s still time to set aside false fears and resolve real issues involved in changing the Colorado National Monument into (his favorite) Colorado Canyons National Park.  Neighborly comments are welcome at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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Count me as one of those wrapped in an unholy alliance. I’m not so much an opponent of park status as an opponent of bunkum, and the park has largely been sold on that basis.

It is possible for there to be little positive economic impact while still leaving negative impact on the resource. The issue isn’t simply volume of visitors—it’s the amount and quality of visitation, when and where.

The Grand Junction economy is large and is going to grow regardless, so even the most optimistic estimates of increased visitorship won’t have much economic impact. The dollars spent by tourists will be concentrated in a few sectors, where jobs are mostly low-paid. Any real impact comes from spending more than a day in town, yet we have what’s realistically a drive-through park. Unless the entire valley is marketed successfully, we won’t capture many of those dollars.

So what about negative impact? Visitation is seasonal. A 10% increase annually is more like a 20-30% increase in volume during a few key months. There’s essentially one road with two entrances and with limited width and parking capacity, as well as only a few places for the less adventurous to tramp around.

I’m skeptical about the tour bus prospects being touted, but suppose those increase. A tour bus has a disproportionate impact on others’ experience, views, parking, traffic flow, etc. compared to a similar number of visitors spread out over time.

Call me fearful or illogical, but I see potential for the experience to be degraded without much payback. When I have to choose between trusting Pollyanna or Cassandra, my inclination is to leave things as they are.

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