Tourism hike a plus for monument-park panel

Upgrading Colorado National Monument to a national park is an easy call in terms of trying to boost visitation, members of a committee studying the idea concluded Wednesday.

Whether such a move might have unintended consequences that would negate the benefits of park status, however, had members also taking a cautious stance and stressing the need to seek additional public involvement on the issue.

The committee was appointed by U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., and Sens. Michael Bennet and Mark Udall, both Colorado Democrats.

Trying to raise the profile of the monument’s rocky spires and ochre canyons only makes sense at a time of high unemployment, said John Redifer, a Colorado Mesa University professor. Even if park status means some unintended consequences, it could increase the economic viability of Mesa County, Redifer said, and that would be a far better choice than “people out of work and losing hope.”

The National Park Service, however, hasn’t proven helpful to efforts to improve the local economy, former U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis, R-Colo., said, citing the Park Service’s rejection of a leg of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge race on the monument.

“I still don’t think that they’ve been good partners with us,” McInnis said.

Glade Park resident Warren Gore said he was prepared to seek legislation to get a name change, which would “definitely help the branding” for the monument, a 20,000-acre example of wind and water erosion cutting through millions of years of sedimentary rock to reveal towering remains of the hard stone beneath the rock that was worn away, as well as hanging canyons unique to the monument.

Udall earlier this year promised that the community would play a strong role in the drafting of legislation to establish the monument as a national park.

He can be relied on to do just that, McInnis said, but noted the final shape of legislation isn’t always up to the author.

“Please believe me on this: We go into this with a very weak hand” given that Tipton, Bennet and Udall all are junior members of Congress, all in their first full terms, McInnis said.

For Greg Mikolai, who represents School District 51, the issue is simple.

“If it’s an economic benefit to the Grand Valley, it’s a no-brainer, we go for it,” Mikolai said. “If it’s a detriment, we don’t.”

Tour operators who work with domestic and international travel told the committee in a conference call that park recognition for the monument would be a significant advantage.

Tours that he arranges with a Belgian company fly into the shadow of Colorado National Monument at Grand Junction Regional Airport, but they leave immediately for the national parks in Utah without ever stopping at the vistas the visitors can see from their bus windows as they leave, said Gary J. Schluter of Rocky Mountain Holiday Tours in Fort Collins.

For international travelers, “They look for national parks,” Schluter said.

Tours operated by Tauck World Discovery in Connecticut don’t stop at the monument in Grand Junction because it’s not a park, said Brian Stacey, director of new product development for Tauck.

“We do drive right by Colorado National Monument, and it’s unfortunate,” Stacey said. “It’s unfortunate. It’s a great place.”

The committee meets again next month to begin organizing to accept public comment on whether to seek park status for the monument.


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