Due diligence done, it’s time to fulfill John Otto’s dream
By Laurena Mayne Davis
The Daily Sentinel
It was, in the 11th hour, after years of lobbying, a way to at least get something done about the park— a political expediency.
Congressman Edward T. Taylor in January of 1911 sent by post an update to John Otto, who had galvanized the community around the idea of setting aside as a national park the stunning canyonlands to the south between Grand Junction and Fruita.
Grand Valley citizens wanted a national park, but Washington, D.C., perhaps tone-deaf to Western concerns, was unyielding.
Taylor pulled no punches in his letter:
“I am absolutely confident that there is not one chance in a thousand of getting a national park, under the present conditions in Congress and the prevailing sentiment at this time in the east, and with the administration. I think the chances are that we will have to let the matter rest until the next Congress convenes next December; although if I had that petition here before Congress adjourns the 4th of March, showing that the people have agreed to a Monument Park, I believe I could get the president to establish it by proclamation.”
Meanwhile, back in the Grand Valley, citizens were undeterred. Rocky Mountain naturalist Enos A. Mills toured the proposed park and met with the Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce and the Young Men’s Christian Association, promising to wield on their behalf his considerable influence in Washington.
“Build up roads and trails and urge its creation into a national monument or park if you can get it, and you will have an attraction that will bring tourists here. A good road to Monument Canon would be as useful as an irrigation ditch through an acre of desert. … I will be in Washington next fall and I will do everything possible to help you people along with your proposition. I want to see Monument Canon made a national park.”
On May 24, 1911, however, with the support of the secretary of the Interior, President William Howard Taft did indeed designate the hanging canyons and sandstone spires to be Colorado National Monument.
Much of the above information is from “John Otto: Trials and Trails” by Alan J. Kania, the pre-eminent expert on the monument’s first and most ardent supporter. It’s a fascinating and comprehensive look at a complex man. Those now earnestly carrying on Otto’s work of national park designation might recognize the in-fighting, the political wrangling and the egos that can get in the way of common sense.
So in 1911, the monument’s designation was a win, and it was a loss. Congress a few years later looked more favorably upon designating national parks in the West.
The famed naturalist Mills, who became known as the “Father of Rocky Mountain National Park,” successfully shepherded that park to designation in 1915. Denali National Park followed in 1917, then Grand Canyon and Zion National Parks in 1919.
And since 1911, this valley periodically has taken up the charge to finish the work started by Otto and our peers all those years ago. We now have a real shot at finishing the job.
No change should be undertaken without due diligence, and it has been done, and quite thoroughly.
Changing the designation from a monument to a national park does not affect rights of way, air-quality standards, water rights or existing boundaries — all concerns raised and addressed early on in this process.
What it does do is more accurately describe the park, and make it known to visitors that they need not drive by or fly on to other national parks without visiting ours first. It is the premier designation — the one we deserve.
We in the Grand Valley have a legacy of progress that we can be proud of, which improved our quality of life, which made us who we are today. Take a gander to the north of Interstate 70 and then to the south to see what the engineering marvel of irrigation has done for this valley. The interstate, the railroad and public lands where we can ride, fish, hike and ski — all of these are proof that forward-thinking ideas and courage of conviction can get things done.
We have not built the West, and our little river-bottom slice of it, by wringing our hands, by making sport of nonsensical “what-ifs,” or by drawing lines in the sand for our own self-interest.
We have built the West by working together, by taking a long world-view, by first imagining better things and then working hard to realize them.
In 1911 we made a political compromise to preserve the land in the monument. Now we have — and John Otto surely would cheer from his grave — the opportunity to finally make this land a national park, as was intended, as is befitting.
Laurena Mayne Davis is director of marketing and new product development for The Daily Sentinel, writes a Sunday “Write or Wrong” column in the Books section and — criminy! — believes we deserve the best lives we can make here for ourselves and for our children.