Park status for monument is an idea whose time has come
The idea of redesignating the Colorado National Monument as a national park has been talked about in coffee shops and boardrooms for a very, very long time.
But while the concept as concept enjoys widespread local support, it has never made it off the drawing board.
Why? For those wanting to grant this western Colorado crown jewel its just due as a national park, the devil’s always been in the details.
What to call it?
How to maintain historic access for adjacent residents, ranchers and recreationalists?
How to tightly structure the law so that the Park Service and the Environmental Protection Agency don’t manipulate it?
Every national park designated through the annals of American history has confronted and overcome similarly critical issues.
But for whatever reason, these and other questions have remained unsettled with respect to Colorado National Monument. They’ve been the undoing of those advocating park status for this red-rock hunk of God’s best handiwork.
Will this be the year that our community and congressional representatives finally settle these issues, opening the door for the Colorado National Monument to become America’s newest national park?
Let’s hope so. It’s an idea whose time has come.
In our laws and our culture, there is no higher privilege or higher standard for a patch of dirt, rock, forest or mountain than to become a national park.
No ordinary patch of Mother Earth qualifies, either.
Grand Canyon. Grand Teton. Yosemite. They are our collective natural treasures. They speak to our love of God’s creation and our desire to preserve and showcase these extraordinary places in our otherwise ordinary lives.
I’m not going to spend any time describing why the Colorado National Monument is easily on par with the standard of a national park. If you’ve looked over Cold Shivers’ Point on a clear, blue day, you know.
Colorado National Monument is a national treasure already — the sign just doesn’t read national park.
Beyond preserving and showcasing the best that nature has given us, national park status can be an economic engine. When the uninformed passersby see the sign “national monument,” they can be forgiven for thinking it is a roadside tribute to an old dude who drove a wagon train through here once.
But a national park? RVs come rolling in to see a national park.
These reasons, and many more, explain the desire of many through the decades to remake our Colorado National Monument into a national park.
It’s been more than 100 years now since then-President William Howard Taft established Colorado National Monument with the easy stroke of a foresighted pen.
The national monument designation, as big a deal as it was, was still something of a consolation for 20th century naturalist John Otto, the legendary man who first promoted the idea of making this track of rolling red-rock canyons and jaw-dropping spires a national park.
“I came here last year and found these canyons, and they feel like the heart of the world to me,” Otto said. “I’m going to stay and build trails and promote this place, because it should be a national park.”
But Congress didn’t act on Otto’s idea, and only Congress can create a national park. So Taft did the best he could, invoking the Antiquities Act to designate Colorado National Monument.
A century later, Otto’s words are persuasive, though his dream is unrealized.
How do we finish the job?
First, those who support national park status, say so. Tell Sen. Mark Udall and Congressman Scott Tipton to both listen to local input and actively work to forge consensus.
Once they hear from you, the ball will be in their court to begin methodically working through those devilish details that have trapped our national park in the purgatory of monument status.
How do we protect historic access for the residents of Glade Park? Udall and Tipton should work with Glade Park ranchers and residents to hammer out legislative language that clearly requires exactly that.
How do we keep the EPA from construing the national park designation as an excuse to monkey with industry? Again, leaders in our community, perhaps the Mesa County commissioners and cities of Fruita and Grand Junction, should haul their lawyers into Udall and Tipton’s offices and craft statutory guarantees that keep the EPA at bay.
In 25 and 125 years, our descendants and those of Udall and Tipton will cheer their action and their leadership if they can hammer out agreement and pass national park legislation.
For this great and glorious God-given gift, national park status is an idea whose time has come. Let’s hope this is the year Udall and Tipton can make it happen.
Josh Penry is a former minority leader of the Colorado Senate. He is a graduate of Grand Junction High School and Mesa State College.