Park status panel seeks comments on Colorado National Monument

The committee studying whether to ask for an upgrade in status for Colorado National Monument to a national park is asking for public comment on the idea.

“The interest level is very high,” said Warren Gore, co-chairman of the committee, stressing that no decisions have been made by the committee.

The committee, appointed by U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., and Sens. Michael Bennet and Mark Udall, both Democrats, has met for nearly a year and discussed various aspects of a change.

Having investigated several issues surrounding the proposal, the committee now is looking to gather information from the public, as well as share its findings.

An article containing those findings is printed in today’s Daily Sentinel. People interested in offering opinions about the proposal can do so on a survey that can be found at the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce website, gjchamber.org. Look for the link on the right side of the webpage,  with “NEW” in red, then Colorado National Monument Survey.

Members of the committee are remaining neutral on the issue as they investigate, but it’s clear so far that a change to park status would likely elevate the 20,000-acre attraction in the eyes of tourists and travel organizations looking to fill out travel itineraries.

Many of the members of the committee set aside their preferences as they agreed to the study, which has provided compelling information on both sides of the issue, said Gore, who joked, “I’ve already changed my mind twice” on the subject.

The 16-member committee includes Glade Park residents, business people, current and past elected officials, academics, conservationists and others.

The committee has learned, as it says in the article on 5B:

■ Many individuals who travel simply overlook the monument because its name offers no hint of the sights it offers, and many tour operators rule it out because they are looking only to visit national parks.

■ The monument is large enough and contains enough unique attributes to qualify as a national park, and national parks and national monuments are administered in the same way.

■ It’s unlikely any status change will prompt a change in the air-quality status of the monument or the Grand Valley below.

While park status might encourage additional visitation, the level of visitation already is on the upswing, mostly from people who live in western Colorado and look to it as a place for them to seek recreation and solitude.

One worry some people mentioned to committee members is park status could attract more people than now, eliminating the advantage of living next to what amounts to a secret gem, according to Gore, a Glade Park rancher, and Fruita Mayor Ken Henry, the other committee co-chairman.

Legislation establishing the monument as a park, however, could go a long way to clear up some nagging issues, such as tying down the boundaries of the area, establishing in law the access right of Glade Park residents and clarifying the rights of Fruita, which has a waterline running through the monument.

A president can adjust the boundaries of a national monument at any time, but changing national park boundaries requires congressional action.

Similarly, the rights of Glade Park residents to unfettered access is protected only by a federal court ruling that never was appealed. That access could be made law with a bill, the committee learned.

Committee members hope to learn from the survey whether they should consider other issues and will plan a series of open houses to gather additional information.

The survey can be found at http://www.zoomerang.com/Survey/WEB22EASVKJY7U.



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