‘Monument’ tag mystifies some locals, report shows

It’s not just tourists. Grand Valley residents tend to be unsure of what a “monument” is, according to a report to the National Park Service by a consulting firm that was drafted to guide development of a visitor activities and commercial services plan for Colorado National Monument.

That observation comes from a report to the National Park Service by a consulting firm, CDR Associates on meetings last summer in Fruita, Glade Park and Grand Junction.

In all those meetings, the subject of the exact nature of the place came up, according to a report by CDR to the Park Service.

“There is general confusion about what exactly the word ‘monument’ means,” the report said.

National monuments tend to identify sites managed by the Park Service to preserve a single feature, such as Devil’s Tower in Wyoming. Parks tend to refer to sites with several features.

The study also noted that while many of the people who attended the meetings were complimentary of the staff at Colorado National Monument, they also voiced some confusion about the way the Park Service makes decisions.

“Many voiced concern that sometimes these decisions appear to be inconsistent. When communicating with NPS officials, people have not always felt that they have been heard and that their opinions have been taken into account,” the report said.

The report also reflects much of the debate about whether to elevate the monument to a national park.

Participants in the meetings wondered whether increased visitation could harm the more than 20,000 acres of red rocks, spires, crescent-cut canyons and the black, tough precambrian lava base, the report noted. They also worried that increased numbers of tour buses would be harmful and some noted that people should be encouraged to get out of their cars to tour the monument.

About 50 people each attended the Grand Junction and Fruita sessions, while about 20 attended the Glade Park meeting, the report said.

Colorado National Monument Superintendent Lisa Eckert, who sought the study last year after the Park Service rebuffed multiple attempts to conduct bicycle races along Rim Rock Drive, said the report suggests that she might not need to complete the extensive visitor activity and commercial services plan she originally envisioned.

After a series of meetings next month “we’ll see if there are complexities requiring a full-fledged plan, or not,” Eckert said on Monday when the CDR report was made public.

The report makes few direct references to the controversy over whether bicycle races should be allowed on the monument, but it did note that the organizers of existing events said the permit process itself could be improved.

“Several participants who stage events in the monument encouraged monument staff to establish a permit process that was faster and more efficient for subsequent years, once a similar event had been approved by monument staff and successfully managed,” the report said.

Many of those people asked that monument officials “provide the community with a more thorough understanding of the special-use permit process,” the report says.

It also suggests that the monument could better manage permits with more information, Eckert said.

For instance, noting that peak visitation is between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. on weekends could be helpful in scheduling special events and avoiding conflicts with peak-use hours, Eckert said.

In addition to more community discussions, she will introduce the new Park Service intermountain regional director, Sue Masica, to the issues at Colorado National Monument, Eckert said.

Masica, who previously served as a regional director in Alaska, took over her new post last month.

In her new job, Masica said she hoped to “support employees in their efforts to care for these special places and engage park visitors, partners, and communities.”

Many of the people who participated in the community meetings last year repeated many of the issues that arose in the discussions of whether to seek park status for the monument, according to the CDR report.

Park Service officials were eager to note during the meetings that there is no difference in the way parks and monuments are managed — much as they did during the debate over park status.

Glade Park residents also pressed on the issue of uninhibited access via Monument Road should the area become a national park.

During the meetings, there were “especially lively and energetic conversations regarding increased visitor uses — their impact both on the monument (where there were special concerns about safeguarding resources) and on the community (where there were clear economic benefits described),” the report noted. “Many questions focused on bike racing and re-designation of the monument to national park status.”

Each of the meetings next month will be from 6 to 8 p.m. beginning on March 11 at Two Rivers Convention Center, March 12 at the Fruita Community Center and March 13 at the Glade Park Community Building.


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