Push to upgrade Colorado National Monument stalls in Mesa County
Colorado National Monument’s most recent push for national park status stagnated earlier this week; Sen. Mark Udall and Rep. Scott Tipton cited divided community opinion as why they’ll no longer pursue redesignation of federal lands this legislative session. An upgraded park status needs congressional approval to take effect.
The announcement comes on the heels of a community wide public comment period, as well as the formation of a five-person executive committee in June 2013 to “craft a draft proposal,” a news release from Udall’s office said.
Grand Valley’s populace has long been split on whether its federal lands should receive park status. Opponents voiced concerns over Glade Park access, traffic congestion, water, light pollution, air quality, funding, and whether a park designation would result in expansion of federal lands, to name a few. Supporters hoped park status would alleviate economic stagnation, create new jobs and put Grand Junction on the map as a top-tier tourist destination; Mesa County’s economic recovery still lags in comparison to other areas of the state.
Udall, who is chairman of the U.S. Senate National Parks Subcommittee, noted the need for “continued community dialogue” on a later push for national park status, and how redesignation “could help create jobs and protect the Colorado National Monument for future generations.”
Grand Junction Visitor & Convention Bureau division marketing director Barbara Bowman also expressed disappointment regarding the stalled push to upgrade the monument.
“We feel that national park designation would not only further protect these wonderful resources, but we also know that it could move the needle economically,” she said. “We look forward to future discussion with our community to see where it leads.”
According to Joan Anzelmo, former CNM superintendent and current spokesperson for Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, national parks have long received “large bipartisan support” across the United States. “It is unfortunate that in recent times proposals to designate Colorado National Monument as the nation’s newest national park dissolved into divisive local battles with many opponents using untruthful information and scare tactics” to prevent park status.
Coalition of National Park Service Retirees did not, however, support portions of CNM’s draft proposal for park status. Should legislation be introduced in the future, Anzelmo said the coalition would be willing to offer help drafting a new bill.
While current CNM superintendent Lisa Eckert respects the most recent decision to maintain monument designation, she hopes continued dialogue will promote better understanding of federal lands and the National Park Service on a local level.
“Colorado National Monument is part of the fabric of the community,” she said. “Everywhere you look, you see these amazing red-rock canyons and cliffs. It’s the backdrop to our lives.”
MANY NPS DESIGNATIONS
As a national monument, Mesa County’s expansive gem is already protected by the federal government and managed by the National Park Service.
Eckert said the primary difference between a national monument and national park designation is that national monuments can be proclaimed federal lands with a presidential proclamation (Pres. Howard Taft designated CNM), while national parks require an act of Congress.
“Colorado National Monument is already managed as any national park would be,” Eckert explained, noting park status would change little to daily operations except for attendance numbers. “People collect national parks just as a bird watcher would … Other countries in the world only have national parks, so someone from out of the country may not realize that land with a monument title is worth seeing.”
NPS currently manages 109 national monuments across America. Other federal-land designations include national seashore, national cemetery, national battlefield, and national historic site.
“All federal lands managed by the NPS protect significant resources by law regardless of designation level,” Eckert said in an email. “Today, there are more than 20 different designations (i.e., titles) for units of the National Park System, reflecting the diversity of the areas.”
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