Park status would help monument funding, tourism, speakers say

The rules governing Colorado National Monument won’t change if the 20,000-acre unit of the National Park Service is upgraded to a national park, but it’s likely to be more favorably viewed by tourists and congressional appropriators.

“National parks are seen as the national jewels,” former U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis, R-Colo., said during a meeting Wednesday of a committee studying the possibility of a change in the monument’s status.

The committee was appointed at the behest of U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., in whose district the monument lies, and Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., who last year came out in favor of changing the monument to a park.

Monuments just don’t get the kind of attention that national parks do, McInnis said as Michelle Wheatley, interim superintendent of Colorado National Monument, briefed the committee on issues the monument is confronting.

Wheatley reassured the committee, as had her predecessor, Joan Anzelmo, that promoting the monument to a national park wouldn’t change the air-quality requirements of the region, require changes in the outdoor lighting in the communities below, affect Fruita’s water rights on the Uncompahgre Plateau or change the ability of Glade Park residents to use the east entrance of the monument without charge.

Upgrading the status of the monument to a park would attract visitors, in particular international travelers, who now travel the West without stopping in Grand Junction because their itineraries don’t include visits to national monuments, Barb Bowman of the Grand Junction Visitor and Convention Bureau said.

The National Park Service needs to be respectful of the relationship between the monument and Grand Junction, which it borders, McInnis said, pointing to the possibility more tourist amenities such as hotels would be needed if changing the monument to a park sharply increased visitation.

If the committee opts to support the change, it needs to monitor the enabling legislation closely, said Jack Neckels, a former superintendent of Grand Teton National Park and a member of the Colorado National Monument Association.

“You need to be watching, and you need to know what’s in it,” Neckels said.

Udall pledged to let the local community play a role in writing any legislation.

The monument could qualify as a national park, Wheatley said, noting it has an abundance of scientific, cultural and natural resources.

Even as a monument, it already has problems with traffic, including the way in which visitors move along Rim Rock Drive, Wheatley noted. The monument, however, is well short of its capacity to allow people to visit in cars, trucks, buses and bicycles, Wheatley said.

The Park Service can try to model what might happen with increased levels of visitation to determine which areas might be most affected. Currently, the east end of Rim Rock Drive is most congested, and that’s when commuters are traveling to and from Glade Park, Wheatley said.

The meeting was the committee’s second in what is expected to be a series conducted on a monthly basis. The committee hopes to hear from tour operators and motor-coach carriers during the Aug. 24 meeting.


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