Valley must rally behind national park, Udall says
It’s going to be up to supporters of boosting Colorado National Monument up a grade to a national park to rally community support for legislation, Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., said Saturday.
Udall, who said he was eager to carry such a bill in Congress, urged 43 people gathered in the Grand Junction Police Department training room to gin up community support for “the National Park Service’s highest accolade, which would be park status” at the century-old monument.
He and U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., will decide about midyear whether to introduce a bill, Udall said, but added that they need to know Grand Valley residents generally support the idea.
Udall two years ago broached park status for the monument during a meeting at Colorado Mesa University in which he told residents they could write the measure and work with him to get it past Congress.
A committee he established with Tipton labored for a year studying the potential effects on air and water quality, crowding and traffic, as well as whether park status could be an economic boon to the valley. The committee disbanded last year, making no recommendation.
Some members of the committee, however, said Saturday that the valley still has much to gain with park status. Tours and individual tourists routinely fly into Grand Junction Regional Airport to visit nearby national parks, but overlook Colorado National Monument because monuments don’t rate mention in brochures and on maps.
Getting the attention of those tourists, and their dollars, would be a much needed boost to the tourism economy.
“The benefits to Fruita would be phenomenal,” said Mark Brown of Go-Fer Foods. “Old town Fruita is transitioning into a newer, more vibrant city and this would really help that.”
Grand Junction City Councilman Bennett Boeschenstein volunteered to move a resolution of support for the measure, which Mayor Bill Pitts said he would welcome.
Support for park status, however, is conditional.
It’s imperative that the boundaries of the 20,000-acre monument remain the same if Congress approves park status, Rebecca Frank said. Expanding the area to include the McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area would bring unwanted prohibitions against horse riding and hiking with dogs, Frank said.
Supporters could win the backing of industry by crafting a park-status measure that would contain provisions keeping in place current air-quality standards and other requirements.
A bill also could include the establishment of a local committee with authority to permit certain events, such as bicycle races and tours, said Grand Junction Economic Partnership Executive Director Kelly Flennikens.
The National Park Service has rejected applications for bicycle races over Rim Rock Drive as not fitting with the mission of the monument, a rationale that park supporters and former state Sen. Tillie Bishop, R-Grand Junction, said “they had to dig pretty deep to get.”
Colorado National Monument, however, is more than a local wonder, Bishop said.
“We can’t say that it’s ours,” he said. “We have to share it.”
Udall said he would watch to see if park status gathers support, “but I’m not going to get out in front of the community.”