Gary Harmon Column February 05, 2009

Another stimulus offers the chance to fix Rim Rock

Crank up the old time machine for a moment and go back to 1933, when unemployment was approaching 25 percent and the U.S. government, under a newly minted president, was looking for jobs Americans could do to be gainfully employed.

One of those things, it turned out, was the construction of a 23-mile road tracing the high line along a series of red-rock canyons overlooking a valley scoured out by a major river far below.

For two decades leading up to that point, an old canyon rat had hectored lawmakers far and wide to take note of the place and take steps to preserve it, much as had been done with Yellowstone in a neighboring state.

With the rise of the New Deal, the goal and the means of achieving it aligned.

Suddenly, Rim Rock Drive on Colorado National Monument was part of a national effort to put able-bodied young men to work.

The New Deal was the original stimulus package, a massive spending program initiated by President Franklin Roosevelt to stem the riptide of the Great Depression.

There is a cottage industry of scholars founded on debating the wisdom of the New Deal.

Some say the New Deal ended the Depression. Scholars at the University of California, Los Angeles, recently opined that New Deal policies extended the life of the Great Depression by seven painful years.

The construction of Rim Rock Drive, however, outlived both the New Deal and the Great Depression.

It took until 1951 for the serpentine road along the rim of the area known as Colorado National Monument to be completed.

Some see Rim Rock Drive as a testament to an activist government, some see it as a monument to human ingenuity, guts and drive. Some consider it a high-water mark of federal interest on this sleepy little side of the Rockies.

And then there are those who see Rim Rock Drive as Suicide Central.

Others, most of whom are the people who deal with the immediately aforementioned, see Rim Rock Drive as a stunning, remarkably engineered and long-lasting monument to the idea of an attractive nuisance.

To be sure, the management keeps an eye out for drivers who appear unstable or upset, but suicide attempts are as common as sandstone on Colorado National Monument.

In either case, taxpayers get the cleanup bill, but the federal government won’t consider the idea of rebuilding the road to be more safe.

Were Rim Rock Drive not the spawn of the New Deal, the Consumer Product Safety Commission would insist on a giant warning sign at either end of the drive: “Driving off the road and into the canyons has been found by the Surgeon General to be nearly always fatal,” or something like that.

When it comes to improving Rim Rock Drive, the kind, caring and compassionate New Deal Nanny State goes all Nurse Ratched, and on the cheap, no less.

Yet if there is no federal problem that won’t yield to a few million bucks, why shouldn’t some of the hundreds of billions that the federal government is contemplating in the Newest of New Deals be used to fix the mistakes of the last deal? 

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