National Parks Sound Nice, But Are Less-Than-Friendly Neighbors
A “listening session” held in Grand Junction on Saturday by Colorado’s District 3 Congressman, Scott Tipton, and Senator Mark Udall gave both legislators an earful that neither expected. The officials and their staffers were confronted with citizens of Mesa County alarmed by the implications of creating a new national park in their county. Although the meeting at Grand Junction’s City Hall was attended by supporters and opponents of a proposed park, the opposition outnumbered proponents by a significant margin.
The exploratory process for redesignating the Colorado National Monument to “Rim Rock Canyons National Park” began in 2011, but instead of promoting consensus the conflict has widened. Proponents going by the name “Grand Valley Citizens for National Park Status” have been organized for over 2 years, with a website and Facebook page, and making regular presentations to local clubs and governing bodies. The balance in media coverage changed, however, with the creation of a group called “Friends of the Colorado National Monument,” a grassroots gathering of activists in Mesa County who, according to their website, “coloradomonumentfriends.com” want to “Preserve our lands and lifestyle in Western Colorado.”
In existence for less than a month, Friends of the Colorado National Monument has produced a number of articles, available on their website, that have caused some residents of Mesa County to rethink their support for a new national park in their backyard. Friends of the Colorado National Monument seem to be riding the momentum from a growing distrust for government agencies in the West. They have also gained traction from recent revelations that show supporters of the national park may be basing their arguments on hope as opposed to facts and real experiences at other national monuments turned national parks.
Although no formal legislation has been drafted or introduced into the United States Congress, Senator Udall created a “draft bill” in which he outlined the necessary provisions for creating a new national park. Since interests in and around Mesa County refuse to sign on to legislation that could further harm their energy sector, private development, or the thousands of residents who live on the edges of the existing Colorado National Monument, Mark Udall and Scott Tipton included several caveats in their proposal. Those protective caveats include the input of an Advisory Board consisting of local interests, a promise that no buffer zones would be created threatening private property and development, and the promise that the Class II Air Standards would apply to the new park. One of the most alarming pieces of evidence against national park status appeared recently in the form of an email from the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees opposing those very provisions designed to protect local interests. The coloradomonumentfriends.com website revealed the letter in a post dated May 8.
The Park Service retiree’s coalition is not the only group to question the protective provisions in the proposal. The National Parks Conservation Association and Conservation Colorado have also “expressed concerns” about those provisions since national parks are typically Class I Air Standard Areas, create buffer zones for future expansion, and are controlled solely by federal entities and not local interests.
Friends of the Colorado National Monument has rung the alarm bell pointing out that these non-governmental lobbying organizations could alter the caveats in the legislation, removing those essential protections and turning Mesa County into a federal enclave. This message, among others, seems to be resonating with the people of Western Colorado. One anecdotal observation is that the Facebook page for Grand Valley Citizens for National Park Status, which has existed for over 2 years, has 196 likes. In contrast, the Friends of the Colorado National Monument Facebook page, created less than 2 weeks ago, has 513 likes at last count.
Opponents of federal regulations and restrictions to commercial and private activity in Western Colorado have, perhaps inadvertently, timed their campaign well, riding on a wave of mistrust for the BLM, National Parks Service, and government agencies in general. National parks, once thought to be the crowing jewels of the West, are gaining a reputation as restrictive, over-regulated behemoths unfriendly to development, especially in the energy sector. In energy-rich Western Colorado, it looks like Representative Tipton and Senator Udall may have to abandon their proposal and leave the Colorado National Monument as it is.
by Marjorie Haun as seen first in Colorado Watchdogwire.com