COLORADO NATIONAL MONUMENT, Colo. (AP) – On the eve of its 100th birthday, Colorado National Monument is being pushed for an upgrade to a national park.
Supporters say a name change would bring the western Colorado monument, with its 32 square miles of red-rock monoliths and canyons, the kind of attention it deserves.
“I think when people hear ‘monument,’ they think of a plaque on a rock,” said Jennifer Grossheim-Harris, marketing director of the Grand Junction Visitor and Convention Bureau, which sits next door to the monument on the south side of Interstate 70.
Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., has been fielding comments on the idea, including from the visitors’ bureau. He plans a public meeting in Grand Junction in the next few months. One concern is whether a change in status would affect area water rights or land use regulations.
“I think there’s a very solid case” for considering the change, Udall told The Associated Press.
Congress would have to approve any change, and that can take years. In 2000, Congress authorized expanding the Great Sand Dunes National Monument in south-central Colorado and made it a national park after years of campaigning by area residents.
The Black Canyon of the Gunnison Monument in western Colorado became a national park in 1999.
The quest to make the red-rock country a national park started in the early 1900s. Miner John Otto, considered the monument’s founder, and area residents lobbied Congress. It was designated a monument May 24, 1911.
“(Otto) made it known how special this place was,” said superintendent Joan Anzelmo.
Rare fossils and species, including a moth not seen anywhere else, have been found in the monument. Those finds, along with its scientific, scenic, historic and recreational values, fit the criteria required for a national park, Anzelmo said.
While a national park upgrade is expected to boost tourism, some community leaders wonder if it could also bring tougher protections. Air quality standards are more stringent in national parks, and some business leaders question whether that could lead to restrictions on industry.
Anzelmo said she wouldn’t expect any changes. The strictest air-quality standards haven’t been imposed when a site already in the National Park Service system, such as the monument, is reclassified, she said.
Anzelmo noted that 22 square miles of proposed wilderness in the monument are already managed as if they were wilderness. The community of Glade Park, reached by the monument’s Rim Rock Drive on the east side, would still have access to the outside world.
What is expected to change with an upgrade is the number of visitors, now averaging 720,000 per year.
“The draw of national parks is incredible,” said Grossheim-Harris. “They have a huge domestic and international following.”
A national park designation “would more appropriately conserve, protect and recognize the national significance of the geology, paleontology, sacred use by indigenous people and the diversity of the flora and fauna,” Paul Petersen, chairman of the bureau’s board of directors, wrote Udall and Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet.
The monument kicks off its 2011 centennial with a fireworks display on New Year’s Eve.
– By Judith Kohler, AP Writer
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