We need better data to decide park status

As unabashed supporters of park status for Colorado National Monument, we look wistfully to Soledad, California, which is enjoying a 20 percent uptick in sales-tax revenue since the nearby Pinnacles National Monument became a national park.

Pinnacles was redesignated in 2013 and local officials in Soledad are pleased with the economic benefits. Park attendance is up 30 percent since the name change, as reported by the Sentinel’s Gary Harmon.

We note the irony of calls by area lawmakers for Gov. John Hickenlooper to do something to spur economic vitality in the region. Yet, the low-hanging fruit of a simple name change that could bolster tourism is left to rot on the vine. It’s a political hot potato that probably appears more contentious than it actually is because of spurious methods to gauge public sentiment.

U.S. Sen. Mark Udall and U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton have indicated that they need resounding community support to carry park legislation in Washington, D.C. A statistically reliable survey administered by a professional polling firm would be an expensive undertaking. So online surveys, comment forums, listening sessions and letters to the editor serve as the only means of gathering input.

That’s a poor substitute for the statistical accuracy of random sampling. Why? Because people who make use of such feedback forums are self-selecting. They’re the most engaged and passionate respondents. But polling science suggests that they only represent 20 percent of the population — 10 percent on each end of the spectrum. The remaining 80 percent, the “silent majority,” may or may not support park status, but we’ll never know.

If the vast, undefined “center” doesn’t care enough to weigh in, should their opinion even matter? Maybe. A properly worded, Blue Book-style pro vs. con question that explained what park status would change (nothing) and how it could lead to direct economic benefits for the community might surprise us.

Instead, the proposed legislation seems dead in the water. If it’s not dead, it’s on life support. It certainly hasn’t helped that recent National Park Service decisions regarding management of the monument have fanned fears of federal overreach.

We hate the thought of this important legislation languishing because Udall and Tipton don’t have a true picture of the region’s support for park status.

That’s why we urge both lawmakers to hold off on making a final decision pending a survey. How such a survey would be conducted or funded is another question. But taking action without adequate information rarely serves the public interest.


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