Park-status committee begins work

A committee looking at whether to seek an upgrade to park status for Colorado National Monument will learn how tourism professionals evaluate the possible change, as well as what happens when the sun goes down there.

The process of considering park status for the 20,000-acre monument that overlooks the Grand Valley will likely go more than eight months, committee members said during their first meeting Monday at the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce.

Committee members will have to tackle the question of how best to accomplish the community’s aspirations for the monument.

At one level, said committee member Greg Mikolai, who produced a documentary about the guiding spirit of the monument, John Otto, it’s a dollars-and-cents decision.

If the economic benefits of park status outweigh the costs, then the committee should pursue park status, Mikolai said.

That formulation, however, might not fly with everyone, said Warren Gore, a Glade Park rancher who was selected to head the committee with Fruita Mayor Ken Henry.

“You will find there is a core group of people who do not want this area exploited,” Gore said.

Committee meetings will be open to the public, but the meetings are not intended to be used to collect public comment until the panel conducts a public scoping session on the proposal,  members said.

Former U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis, R-Colo., for whom the McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area is named, urged the committee to move deliberately, noting that the monument and surrounding conservation area already work together nicely.

“I think we’ve got a nice thing going,” McInnis said.

“We don’t want to screw it up,” Grand Junction Mayor Tom Kenyon said.

There is room, though, for improvement, said Barb Bowman of the Grand Junction Visitor and Convention Bureau.

One company picks up 48 tours a year at Grand Junction Regional Airport and takes them directly to the national parks in Utah, never stopping at Colorado National Monument, Bowman said. Motorcoach visitation at the monument has shrunk over the years, she said.

When she began working at the bureau two decades ago, some 300 coaches toured the monument every year. That number is down to about 100, Bowman said.

Now, international and domestic travelers alike prefer to travel individually, she said.

The committee is planning to meet with travel planners, including one that has dropped Grand Junction, as well as tour operators to get a better feel of how the monument is viewed by those industries.

Committee members also plan to meet with monument officials to better understand the day-to-day issues there.

Not all visitation at the monument is benign, Mesa County Commissioner Steve Acquafresca said he has learned after meeting quarterly with monument officials.

Of the many reasons to visit the monument, some are “on the nefarious side,” especially after dark, Acquafresca said. “The ranger doesn’t wear a sidearm for a fashion statement.”

The committee also plans to tackle air quality, light pollution and other issues.

Members were appointed by U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., and Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., to decide how best to handle the monument-to-park proposal that arose last year.



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