JOHNSON: Let’s work to make Colo. Nat’l Monument the 60th national park |

JOHNSON: Let’s work to make Colo. Nat’l Monument the 60th national park

Ken Johnson
Free Press Opinion Columnist

Do you think Colorado Canyons National Park sounds like a great name for one of America’s most interesting natural wonders?

That COULD be a name for our current Colorado National Monument.

And seeing “national park” in the name would have made the late John Otto incredibly happy. Otto, as everyone knows, is the “father” of our Colorado National Monument; he wanted it to be a national park. He circulated a petition for it in 1907. Colorado didn’t have much political clout in those days so the project lagged. And lagged and lagged.

Otto labored in the canyons building trails and labored in the towns promoting this beautiful gift that he knew was a national treasure. Otto finally prevailed because, despite Congress, President Taft designated those astonishing canyons and cliffs a national monument, in 1911. It was Otto’s second choice, better than none.

The consequences are that, through the years, the monument has been a wonderful local asset, but it has become even more a “second-class citizen” during the 102 years it has been part of the National Park Service. Today, the cachet of being a national park has led to major “park to park” tourism and visits. There is no “monument to monument” tourism trail.

Sen. Mark Udall and Congressman Scott Tipton will carry the bill once the community agrees on the idea. They will be just as successful as then-Congressman Scott McInnis was by carrying the bill for Black Canyon National Park back in 1999. There have been no reported problems with the park status.

Once a monument, the Great Sand Dunes became a national park in 2004. Again, McInnis did the work in Washington.

Mesa Verde National Park and Rocky Mountain National Park are among the most popular national parks in the nation and when our Colorado National Monument becomes Colorado’s fifth national park within arms reach of the other four and Utah’s popular national parks, we will become part of the largest cluster of national parks in the nation. Doesn’t it feel like it’s overdue?

Otto himself said it best: “I came here last year and found these canyons, and they feel like the heart of the world to me. I’m going to stay and build trails and promote this place, because it should be a national park.”

All he asked was for the proper national recognition for those ancient canyons and towering monoliths — his continuing dream.

Park designation has tons of support once again. If you go to the Grand Valley Region Citizens for a National Park website at, you’ll find that Terri Chappell is coordinating the grassroots group.

“It’s a really, really big deal to land a national park,” said Chappell, citing several of the economic advantages that backers expect to see with an upgrade in status. So far, more than 360 businesses have signed up to support the effort, Chappell said.

Right now, it has solid support from Grand Junction, Fruita the Grand Junction and Palisade chambers of commerce, the Grand Junction Economic Partnership and a plethora of individuals who “get it.”

On the website you can read the various documents:

“Grand Junction Chamber re-Ignites Historic Support of NP”

“Grand Junction Economic Partnership Endorses National Park”

“GJ City Council Gives Unanimous Support to John Otto’s Dream”

Former Colorado State Sen. Josh Penry wrote, “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.”

Tourism is big money for all of Colorado and the West Slope. I happened to be Club 20 President years ago when we launched the “Friendly Native” program to recognize that the entire West Slope needed tourism as our strongest and easiest industry.

The reasons haven’t changed — you don’t need schools or more sewers or more services or more taxes to take care of visitors; you need smiles and courtesy and, for the Grand Valley, a national park.

Down at Second and Main, John Otto sits atop Rowdy, peering West through his telescope. He’s in bronze now, a Legends sculpture. But you can almost see him smiling.

Thanks for coordinating this, Terri. Let’s do it now. It will be the 60th national park in America.

Ken is founder of the Grand Junction Free Press and former owner/publisher of The Daily Sentinel. He spends his time between the Grand Valley and California.

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