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More Calls For "National Park" Designations Across The National Park System


Should Colorado National Monument, top photo, or Dinosaur National Monument, bottom photo, be renamed "national parks"? Top photo NPS, bottom photo Kurt Repanshek

What's in a name?

Apparently a lot when the name includes "national park."

From time to time we like to glance across the country and listen for the calls for monuments, historic sites, national recreation areas and other units of the National Park System that are not specifically tagged "national parks" to be renamed as such.

Here's our latest top-of-the-head list of units that one or more folks believe would be better off if they were recognized as "national parks."

* Cedar Breaks National Monument

This identity issue has been kicking around this part of Utah for more than a few years. Back in 2006 we told you that the feeling down in Iron County was that turning Cedar Breaks National Monument into Cedar Breaks National Park could have some nice economic upside.

The idea, which likely is still circulating in some circles, called for enlarging the 6,154-acre national monument to encompass the U.S. Forest Service's adjoining 7,043-acre Ashdown Gorge Wilderness Area and Flanigan Arch, which stands to the west of the wilderness area. Such a move, proponents said, "would make the monument more noticeable and probably bring in more tourists."

Is Cedar Breaks, which drew 492,353 visitors in 2009, worthy?

It is a stunning landscape. The sprawling, multi-hued amphitheater was created by erosion eating away at the colorful underpinnings of the Markagunt Plateau. Within the monument's borders you'll find stands of bristlecone pines, some of the oldest trees on earth. One of the trees standing near Spectra Point is estimated to be more than 1,600 years old.

That said, the monument is "closed" in winter because heavy snows close access roads. That might be just one of the obstacles that would have to be overcome if Cedar Breaks were to gain national park status.

Too, how would the monument be altered to lure and hold tourists? Currently there are just a few short trails and four scenic overlooks. While Utah 148 courses along the eastern flanks of the monument, no other roads access it, which begs the question of whether national park status would require a new road or two leading to the western boundary?

* Colorado National Monument

The most recent rallying call for the monument to become a national park was mentioned in a September 23 editorial in the Grand Junction Sentinel. The newspaper pointed out that it was about 20 years ago when then-Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell began meeting with monument officials to measure the interest in such a change. Apparently there wasn't much, since the monument is still...a monument. But the Grand Junction newspaper wants to mount another name-change movement.

The main problem with the 1990s plan was it called for increasing the size of the national monument more than five times, gobbling up 100,000 acres of Bureau of Land Management property....The current proposal to make Colorado National Monument a national park would not expand the boundaries of the monument, nor would it change how those lands are managed.

But it would increase the public profile for the area. Imagine someone planning a trip, and Googling “national parks in Colorado.” The first item that shows up in such a search makes no mention of Colorado National Monument, but it does list the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park near Montrose, along with Rocky Mountain, Great Sand Dunes and Mesa Verde national parks.

* Dinosaur National Monument

For decades there has been talk about relabeling Dinosaur. And it certainly seems worthy.

The park, er, monument's two rivers, the Yampa and the Green, alone should be justification enough to redesignate Dinosaur as a "national park." They offer some of the best rafting in the West. Toss in the incredible fossil remains that are entombed here, the long Native American history, the more recent Western bandit history (Butch Cassidy slept here!), and the rugged wilderness that lies within its borders and Dinosaur easily deserves the "national park" designation.

Not that there's anything terribly wrong with the "national monument" status. Indeed, that probably fends off quite a bit of visitor traffic and helps Dinosaur retain its wild side and enables nearby Vernal, Jensen, and, ahem, Dinosaur, to keep their sleepy profiles. And it more than likely keeps Dinosaur's budget on the low side.

But ask some folks who are keenly familiar with Dinosaur and they don't hesitate when you run the label question by them.

"I think it’s probably the finest river experience in the country, and most people don’t know that," says Chas Cartwright, Dinosaur's superintendent from 2002-05 and currently running the show at Glacier National Park. "Having an undammed river like the Yampa and a dammed one like the Green through the Gates (of Lodore), it’s a spectacular one."

Denny Huffman, the monument's superintendent for a decade, from 1987-1997, also is quick to agree that Dinosaur is well-deserving of the "national park" moniker.

"I think absolutely YES," he says. "The diversity of resources, the fact that the park lies at the intersection of three major bio-geographical regions with related wildlife and botanical resources, depth in historical significance and cultural resources, and the world- class paleo resources all auger for the park name in my view."

Mary Risser, Dinosaur's superintendent since 2005, answers the question by referring to the nomenclature of the National Park System.

"What they say is a national park contains a variety of resources and encompasses large land or water areas to provide adequate protection of the resources," notes the superintendent. "A monument is intended to preserve at least one nationally significant resource. It’s usually smaller than a national park, and it lacks a diversity of attractions.

"So, when you look at the definition, Dinosaur would definitely qualify as a national park. When you think about the resources that we have here, you start with the Douglas Quarry, which is the world’s best window into the Jurassic-era dinosaurs, (and) we’ve just found probably one of the world’s most significant cretaceous area dinosaur quarries right across," continues Superintendent Risser. "We have two of the West’s premier white-water rivers. ... and then we have over 200,000 acres of wilderness. I think Dinosaur has features that you find in all the other national parks in the state (Utah).

"We can trace human history for 10,000 years here. It has the most complete geologic record in the National Park System, even more so than Grand Canyon. So it’s just a spectacular place."

* Golden Gate National Recreation Area

As regular Traveler readers likely know, there has been a vigorous campaign afoot to have Congress redesignate Golden Gate National Recreation Area to Golden Gate National Parks (the plural is not a typo). But not everyone is happy about it.

As Professor Bob pointed out back in 2008, Bay Area dog owners oppose the proposed change, fearing that it would put an end to off-leash dog walking privileges they currently enjoy.

U.S. Representative Nancy Pelosi has been the redesignation proposal’s strongest champion. She and other supporters of the redesignation believe that the redesignation would be an upgrade in status, converting a “mere recreation area” into a real national park. And not just any old national park, either. Golden Gate National Parks would be the 59th "national park" and the only one in that elite group with an “s” tacked on the end for good measure. (the administrative unit Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks consists of two separate National Parks.

* Pinnacles National Monument

U.S. Rep. Sam Farr of California believes the monument's 24,514 acres with their unique geology and many species that are either threatened or endangered at the state or federal level deserve the "national park" title.

"Upgrading Pinnacles to a national park makes sense for historic, natural and economic reasons,” the Democrat said back in 2009 when he lobbied his colleagues to support the name change. “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."

The Park Service, though, seems lukewarm on this identity change. During a congressional hearing back in November 2009 Steve Whitesell, the agency's associate director for park planning, facilities, and lands, delivered prepared testimony, part of which said, "... 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."

These various calls for redesignations indicate that the National Park Service has an identity crisis on its hands. Indeed, the National Park Conservation Association's Second Century Commission noted that in its final report on The Future Shape of the National Park System.

The public understands what designation as a unit of the national park system means. The public also understands the economic benefits of protected areas.

Actions: Congress should consolidate 30 current titles to no more than five. Recent studies documenting the value of protected areas to surrounding communities, the nation, and the planet should be disseminated. An organized campaign should be undertaken to develop, expand, and disseminate information to increase public awareness of the National Park System and the national system of protected areas.

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I visited Cedar Breaks National Monument in October 2008 and was amazed by it. It was the first stop on a road trip that took me to 16 "true" national parks in the southwest. There was snow on the ground and I spoke to an extremely friendly ranger who gave me a lot of information while she processed my credit card for one of the year passes. As a foreign visitor (British) I'm always eager to see the diverse areas of the US National Park system, and even though it's not a National Park in name, I do believe Cedar Breaks and its ampitheatre definately has what it takes - and it also deserves more attention.

I still vote for New Jersey's one-million acre Pinelands National Preserve. For the first time in my life I was able to witness the cranberry harvest this past weekend. I wish I could attach photos so all could catch a glimpse of this crimson delight. Happy Thanksgiving! Save the Pines and you preserve forever things like this, blueberry pie, those Jersey Beefsteak tomatoes (that's why we're the Garden State, hmmm, right in the middle of the Barrens???). Don't forget the diversity of rare, endangered, and one-of-a-kind species here like the Pine Barrens Tree Frog and the Jersey Devil;-). Yes, even the legends are special and worth preserving along with such gems as the old iron furnaces which helped us win the Revolutionary War. So many folks close their eyes on the way to the shore. But as my wife reiterated the other day as we walked around the Batsto nature trail, the wonder of the Pines is up close. You don't appreciate them from grand vistas and overlooks. Here, the beauty is absorbed just six feet in front of you and all around. At your feet is the moist, spongy, fresh sphagnum moss. Dispersed around that are the Venus flytraps, the pitcher plants, rare orchids, and honeydews. If you are like me, you can make a meal of a day in the Pines as you partake of the natural foods growing abundantly. I always top off mine with a fresh sprig of teaberry leaves to freshen my mouth along with a tiny swig of spring water gurgling up from the aquafir just feet below the surface. Oh and the smells. While I always appreciate the big bold smell of the giant trees of Rocky Mountain, it's the pines and oaks that are sweetest to me right here in New Jersey.

Lawrence - Well said. Your post conjured up memories of canoe trips in the pine barrens with the iron-oxide tinted water that the vegetation has given a sweet iced-tea smell and taste (not that one should drink it...).

The tea color is mostly tannic acid, a byproduct of the dense concentration of vegetation decay unique to the area. Interestingly, at this time of year through the winter, the water color actually diminishes to near crystal clear. The iron smell is unmistakable in the bogs, swamps, and rivers. But my favorite smell of all is the cedar.

Years ago (decades) when hiking the Batona Trail, I stopped for a sip from a spring. I was scolded by an adult for such reckless abandon. While I don't recommend that today, I escaped any harm from that drink and still treasure it's ice-cold, flavorless quench.

It has been our consistent position at NPCA that we will support existing Monuments being re-designated and "upgraded" to Nationla Parks if sufficient land is added to the current boundaries to meet the diversity of resources and attractions test that is set forth by the Park Service in the National Parks Index. It is clear the brand of "national park" has real value to attract greater numbers of visitors, and we are happy that is the case. At the same time, we shouldn't cheapen the brand by automatically converting National Monuments to National Parks. There are cases-- and Dinosaur is a good example-- where a ver y good argument can be made that existing Monuments already meet the criteria for being National Parks.

While I think all these places deserve to be national parks, I however seen a major downside to making them national parks as well. Making them a national park MAY create more tourists which will indeed stimulate the local economy but more tourists also means more man made destruction such as tire tracks, pollution ( both envirnmental and noise) , people walking, riding bikes, bringing cars in to them will erode the landscapes and change them irreversibly. If you want all these places to stay as beautiful as they are I say give them national park protection WITHOUT national park publicity. The less people come see them the less damage they will do.

I'm in total agreement with making Dinosaur a National Park. My daughter and son-in-law worked there for around three years and we made a couple of trips out there, and it is an awesome place. From the rivers to the mini-grand canyon area on the Colorado side, and then the dinosaur bones is beautiful, and so unexpected in such a remote location. I hope it gets its designation.

Totally cosmetic.

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