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National Park Service Opposes Redesignation Of Pinnacles National Monument as a National Park


The National Park Service opposes renaming Pinnacles National Monument as a "national park." Photo of the High Peaks by Clayton Mansnerus via NPS.

A congressional effort to have Pinnacles National Monument redesignated as a "national park" is opposed by the National Park Service because the monument contains a limited array of resources.

U.S. Rep. Sam Farr of California believes the monument's 14,500 acres with their unique geology and many species that are either threatened or endangered at the state or federal level deserve the title.

"Upgrading Pinnacles to a national park makes sense for historic, natural and economic reasons,” the Democrat said Friday back in August. “This area is much more than rock formations. It’s a huge swatch of land with historical significance for the state, it provides an important refuge for the California condor and it has great potential for tourism revenue.”

The monument is one of the oldest ones in the National Park System, having been designated by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1908. It received its name from "rock spires and crags that are remnants of an ancient volcano," notes the National Park Service. "The volcano eroded over millions of years as it moved northward along the San Andreas Fault. Rock debris in the form of boulders has weathered and settled, leaving behind spires of volcanic rock and talus caves."

However, when the measure came up Tuesday before the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands the Park Service opposed the name change.

"The monument has truly extraordinary natural resources and has played a crucial role in the reintroduction of the California condor to its traditional range in California. However, under longstanding practice, the term 'national park' has generally been reserved for units that contain a variety of resources and encompasses large land or water areas to help provide adequate protection of the resources. Pinnacles National Monument does not include the full range of resources usually found in national parks," said Steve Whitesell, the agency's associate director for park planning, facilities, and lands.

"Additionally, the department has been reviewing the recommendations recently made by the National Parks Second Century Commission," he continued. "One of the recommendations is to substantially reduce the more than two dozen different park titles currently used for units of the National Park System. In response to this recommendation, a departmental task force will be looking at a comprehensive plan for renaming many of our park units. This effort will be particularly important for determining which units are appropriate candidates for the title 'national park,' which is sought by supporters of some other units throughout the country that are not currently designated as such. Under a nomenclature with fewer titles, it is possible that Pinnacles and other units with similar characteristics should have 'national park' in their title. However, until the task force’s work has been completed, we request that the committee not act on legislation to rename any units as national parks."

In promoting his bill, Rep. Farr told the subcommittee the national monument is more than meets the eye.

"The park is unique in our country for a variety of reasons. It is one of the few regions in the world that boasts a Mediterranean climate; it serves as home for dozens of federally protected species; it has a long, rich cultural history; it serves as a center for geological science, it’s an area of unspoiled beauty; and opening this summer thanks to the use of Land and Water Conservation Fund to purchase the Pinnacles Ranch the Pinnacles Campground is now within the boundaries of Pinnacles National Monument, and is managed by a concessionaire," he said.

Additionally, said the Democrat, his office has started talks with an adjacent landowner who would be interested in selling 18,000 to the government for addition to the monument, a move that would boost its overall size to 44,000 acres.

"I bring this to the Subcommittee’s attention because this future addition to the Pinnacles system will add a parcel of land rich in wildlife, land and water resources along with a four-mile stretch of the San Benito River and numerous springs," said Rep. Farr. "This property also nests condor 514, the first condor hatched in the county in at least 70 years. This magnificent bird recently took his first flight over historic condor breeding grounds in the San Benito back country."


I hope this doesn't happen. I just don't see Pinnacles as worthy of "National Park" status. I enjoyed my visit there, but it just doesn't seem to fit the profile.

Thanks for the coverage about this important effort. However, the Park Service in yesterday's hearing did not out-right oppose the re-designation of Pinnacles to a national park. The agency simply requested that the decision be delayed until the completion of their study on how they designate their parcels. Rep. Farr is working to ensure local voices are heard and local voices strongly support Pinnacles National Park.

Kurt, as CW posted, the hearing testimony did not include the bit about opposing the re-designation. You must be quoting something else (the prepared testimony?). Please let us know if you have a link to whatever you're quoting.

But that aside... I wonder about this argument that they should wait for the Second Century's recommendations before renaming anything. Seems to me this is either:

1. A stalling tactic, hoping that the proposal dies before then.


2. The Second Century Commission really will do a pretty significant proposal as far as redoing the nomenclature. He seems to be suggesting that Pinnacles might be a national park under that new designation. That presumably means other units would also fit the new designation. It will be very interesting to see how that plays out. What if we radically expand our definition of national park to include a lot more units? Would that be a good thing? I don't know. But I will say that the national monument designation could use some tweaking. There are a ton of national monuments from Grand Portage to Bush's Marianas Trench to Pinnacles and they vary quite a bit in what precisely they protect and what kind of visitor experience they offer. Personally I think it would be nice if all NPS's national monument got designations that better reflected what exactly they are and what they offer to the general public. Maybe that would mean making a lot of them "national parks" and maybe that's a good thing. But maybe not.

CW and Mike, I think Mr. Whitesell's comment, contained in his prepared testimony that you can find at this site ( speaks for itself.

"... under longstanding practice, the term 'national park' has generally been reserved for units that contain a variety of resources and encompasses large land or water areas to help provide adequate protection of the resources. Pinnacles National Monument does not include the full range of resources usually found in national parks," said Steve Whitesell, the agency's associate director for park planning, facilities, and lands.

I think it's accurate to say the Park Service opposes redesignating Pinnacles from a monument to a national park as things stand today.

Now, the Traveler long has argued that the nomenclature system used by the Park Service has gotten carried away and that there needs to be some downsizing. It's not out of the question to envision a system that contains three or four designations and no more. If so, then perhaps Pinnacles would be classified as a national park...but arguably because the name game has changed, not because the monument all of a sudden has developed "the full range of resources usually found in national parks."

Put another way, while I've written thousands of articles, I likely won't become a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer unless and until they change the qualifications;-) I'm sure Professor Bob would back me up on that!

Thanks Kurt. I was watching the actual video and Whitesell did not mention anything then about opposing the designation. Of course prepared remarks are always longer, but I wonder if leaving that out in the spoken remarks was intentional. :)

Agree on the second point, and wonder about what new national parks would exist under the new designation, and of course whether some others would lose that status, which would be by far the much trickier part.

I'm not sure that NPS wants to stick their neck out too far in opposing almost anything in congress unless it has a major impact on NPS resources. While it isn't quite "salute and obey", legislative enemies are to be avoided. Perhaps a fair summary was that the NPS testimony did not actively support the redesignation, and suggested waiting for a more rational overhaul of NPS designations?

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