‘Park’ brand remains the best there is

Explaining the “monument” part of Colorado National Monument to visitors has always been difficult. After all, there is no bronze statue or marble obelisk to show them. There is only the grandeur of the natural elements — the deep red canyons, sage-covered mesas and sandstone spires — but visitors would never know that from the name alone.

So it’s no surprise that many folks hereabouts want to attach a different, more descriptive name to the resource, a “rebranding,” some say. But it’s astonishing so many people now seem willing to accept a half-measure name change based on the persistent and mistaken belief that designating the monument as a national park will somehow change the way it’s managed.

Let’s be clear: Both National Park Service officials and federal law state that the difference in management policies between a park and a monument is zero, zilch, nada, nothing.

Nor does a change to park status mean a significant increase in traffic, based on the experience of other national monuments that have been redesignated as national parks.

What it will mean, according to their experience, is different sorts of visitors. National parks draw people from around this country and internationally who are looking specifically to visit national parks, people who also tend to spend more money in the communities they visit.

The choice between “monument” or “park” is nothing more than a branding decision. “Park” is the top brand. “Monument” is the lesser and, in this case, very confusing brand.

This community has an opportunity to obtain the top brand — at no cost to this area or the federal budget. With it, we will receive free marketing in travel material around the globe that is several times more valuable than the budgets of the Visitor and Convention Bureau, the Grand Junction Economic Partnership, the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce and the Colorado National Monument Association combined.

Rebranding makes sense, if it’s done right. However, some name proposals are laughable: Red Rock Canyons of the Colorado National Monument? There’s an awkward mouthful that would leave tourists as confused as ever, especially since there is a Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area in Nevada.

Compare that with, say, Colorado Canyons National Park.

Furthermore, it is intellectually inconsistent to seek a different name for the monument to give it better public exposure and to reduce confusion, but oppose the most elegant means of achieving those goals: changing “monument” to “park.”

With the effort initiated by Sen. Mark Udall and Rep. Scott Tipton to investigate a possible change in status of the monument, we have an opportunity to realize a century-long goal of having a national park in our backyard. If we act timidly, it will be a long time before such an opportunity is presented again.

It’s important to remember that national park status was what John Otto envisioned for the red-rock canyons he frequented, cherised and promoted a century ago. He and others in this community settled for a presidential order to establish a national monument only because congressional action to designate it as a national park was stalled.

Let’s finally grant John Otto’s dream.


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