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."
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?
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.
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."
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.
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.