Opinion: National park status outcome deeply disturbing
Free Press guest columnist
Our community should find it deeply disturbing Congressman Tipton chose to abruptly abandon support of community driven draft legislation to create a national park. That it happened just one day after local media called for a professional survey to accurately gauge Grand Valley support for Colorado National Monument’s upgrade to national park, and before proponents dropped off stacks of petitions loaded with signatures supporting national park status, should be noted. No deadline was established regarding petition signatures so Mr. Tipton has yet to hear from a great number of local citizens including many who live in the Redlands, Glade Park and Fruita and a multitude of Grand Valley business owners.
We will turn those petitions in, because if he truly represents District 3, their voices should count before he prematurely pulls the plug on a three-year community driven effort. In addition, Mr. Tipton blatantly ignores that national park status proponents won support of all three municipalities (Grand Junction, Fruita and Palisade), the Grand Junction Economic Partnership, downtown businesses represented by the Downtown Development Authority, Grand Junction Visitors and Convention Bureau, local chambers of commerce and tourism boards, the Colorado National Monument Association, the Museum of Western Colorado, CAVE (representing the Colorado wine industry), the local hotel, resort, ski and restaurant industry (together representing thousands of businesses) and a slew of respected local leaders including Tillie Bishop, Josh Penry, Tim Foster, Jamie Hamilton and Bernie Buescher based on extensive research and factual information. In contrast we believe national park opponents — including Mesa County Commissioner candidate Scott McInnis and Tea Party advocate Kent Carsons — raised nowhere near that kind of broad support and relied on a steady campaign of misinformation to locals. If Mr. Tipton has suddenly changed course and now truly believes the community is divided and a national park would bring no benefit, he should welcome an unbiased survey of residents and economic impact study to remove all doubt.
Success stories like Pinnacles National Park, which experienced a 30-percent increase in visitors after Mr. Tipton helped elevate it from a monument to a national park less than a year and a half ago, speak volumes. Mr. Tipton surely owes no less to his own district than he gave to towns near distant Pinnacles NP in California. At that time, Mr. Tipton raised none of the concerns he now outlines in backing out of our community driven effort. After personally appointing a five-member local committee along with Senator Mark Udall to write national park draft legislation last summer, Mr. Tipton told KCNC (Channel 4) in Denver, “It would draw more international visitors, would help the hospitality sector, the service sector, it would help an area where unemployment is too high.” Though he had all the facts, there was not a single mention of any of the issues or “abounding concerns” Mr. Tipton raised in his recent press release. The facts remain the same, so why is Mr. Tipton suddenly contradicting himself?
Following recent public comment, Grand Valley Region Citizens for a National Park was informed proponents won by a significant margin, even when all comments from anyone outside of Mesa County were eliminated. If that is not the case as Mr. Tipton now states, both he and Senator Udall together should release the numbers immediately and explain the discrepancy.
It’s also baffling that Mr. Tipton, whose family makes a living with a pottery business dependent on Mesa Verde National Park tourists, has denied families in his own district the same opportunity to benefit from a national park. At the same time, he’s turned his back on more than a century of our community’s advocacy for national park status, and on the monument’s clear qualifications for national park status.
We find it counter intuitive Mr. Tipton would not only ignore, but vow to fight against, what would be the biggest thing to benefit our area in decades, a window of opportunity to bring our community indefinite international recognition and jobs at a time when local businesses have struggled through more than six years of recession; Mesa County sales tax and use revenues are down two and a half percent (while the rest of Colorado prospers), forcing our cities, county and school district to make ongoing drastic cuts. (A 10-percent increase in visitation would bring 14 million additional dollars to the local economy). The telling part is every possible scare scenario he outlined could happen just as easily under current national monument status … but hasn’t.
So, while opponents of park status may celebrate “victory,” the sad reality is, no one wins. Those who believe in founder John Otto’s life long pursuit of a national park lose; our cities, county, museums, public safety agencies, libraries and schools directly dependent on sales tax revenues lose; residents who need jobs and businesses who need customers lose; Colorado and specifically western Colorado lose an important new tool to attract businesses and tourists; and most lamentable of all, a fascinating and awe inspiring place that truly deserves national park status on every level goes unrecognized and unshared by millions around the nation and world who might otherwise have taken a detour and experienced the same inspiration those of us who live here enjoy every single day.
Finally, national park status would so protect our canyons it would forever take an act of Congress to change its borders or status. What opponents of park status have accomplished in attempting to keep the monument “the same” is, in fact, to leave its boundaries wide open to substantial expansion.
Via the Antiquities Act any U.S. President, at any time, can create or expand existing monuments without any input from the local community or Congress. Since Colorado National Monument has been on the Federal agenda for expansion to the Utah border no less than three times in the recent past, and President Obama has a stated agenda to create new monuments and expand ones that already exist, no one in the park opposition camp or Congress should feign surprise or anger when it finally happens.
Terri Chappell is an Emmy winning television news anchor and local who returned home to Grand Junction after long stints in Dallas, Austin, San Francisco and Sacramento. She’s spent the past year and a half as a volunteer coordinator for Grand Valley Region-Citizens for a National Park.
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