Monument upgrade dropped
Colorado National Monument will remain as it is for at least one more year, barring a presidential decision to change it.
U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., and U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., said Monday there would be no bill this year to upgrade the status of the monument to a national park, as envisioned by a local bill-drafting committee that also proposed dubbing it Rim Rock Canyons National Park. The proposal also called for an advisory committee to work with park management.
Even in agreeing that no park-status legislation would go forward this year, Tipton and Udall showed they were as divided as the Grand Valley community on the issue.
“A change in the status of the monument could at the very least create an increased level of uncertainty over future regulatory impacts to the Mesa County area, and possibly more stringent regulations in and around the monument,” Tipton said in a statement. When it comes to growing economic opportunity and creating jobs, it is done successfully through less regulatory uncertainty, not more.”
Tipton also noted he would oppose any effort to establish a national park to replace the monument.
Congressional protocol would require that he support such a measure in his 3rd Congressional District.
The continuing division over park status “rules out legislation over the short term,” Udall said in a statement. “The community should continue to discuss how a national park designation could help create jobs and protect the Colorado National Monument for future generations.”
Park-status supporters cited the opportunity to capture more tourist business, especially visitors from other countries in seeking park designation. They also pointed to the possibility that the 20,000-acre monument, which was established in 1911 by President William Howard Taft under the 1906 Antiquities Act, could be enlarged by President Barack Obama in similar fashion.
No president, however, could unilaterally change the boundaries of a national park, which would be established by Congress.
“As a national monument any president can expand it at anytime with no community input or input from Congress,” said Terri Chappell, founder of Grand Valley Regional Citizens for a National Park. “That’s a chance Mr. Tipton seems willing to take for all of us, but it does not accurately reflect the community desires he was elected to represent.”
The issue won’t go away, Chappell said.
“A pause in an election year is reasonable, but to our minds quitting is not an option for anyone who sincerely cares about the future of the Grand Valley,” she said.
Tipton and Udall are seeking re-election this year.
Opponents of park status have said the designation could set the stage for federal overreach and Tipton said the National Park Service had provided western Colorado with just such an example.
“Just last month, without any notice or public consultation, the National Park Service announced that it would no longer allow the transport of vital fuels on (Rim Rock Drive) to the residents of Glade Park,” Tipton said. “While the Park Service backpedaled on this overreach for the time being, it was a betrayal of the community’s trust and illustrative of the significant impact that agency decisions can have on the local community.”
Udall noted that he would use his position as head of the Senate subcommittee on national parks to ensure the agency worked well with nearby communities.
Economics weighed heavily on both sides of the division over park status.
“We in the tourism constituency truly believe that a national park would not only protect this fabulous resource, but would also move the needle economically and in a very quick fashion,” said Barbara Bowman, manager of the Grand Junction Visitor and Convention Bureau.
The VCB will support the consensus of the community, Bowman said, adding the agency would participate in discussion of the proposed legislation.
Park-status opponents said the possibility of economic gains from Rim Rock Canyons National Park would be outweighed by the threat of environmental organizations and federal agencies using the park as a wedge against energy development in western Colorado.
With the prospect of a bill off the table, “Now we have a chance to get economically healthy again and grow,” said Kent Carson of Friends of Colorado National Monument, which was founded to continue its current status.
Debates over monument status have done little to bring residents together, said Diane Schwenke, president and CEO of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce, an early supporter of park status.
Membership in the chamber is split roughly one third in favor of park status, one third against and one third with no position or interest, Schwenke said, citing a 2010 survey of members.
“All through this process, I don’t think I’ve seen the needle move,” Schwenke said, “except that it’s become more divisive.”
The committee that drafted the proposed measure had hoped to see the process move forward, said Ginny McBride, one of the five members of the committee.
“We look forward to any future dialogue,” McBride said, “and we remain open to bringing both sides of the discussion together in any way we can.”