Monumental change well worth considering

Informed people can disagree over whether or not to change the Colorado National Monument to a national park. But it’s difficult to argue the monument doesn’t deserve national park designation — or at least a serious consideration of that possibility.

Regardless of how familiar the experience, a trip over Rim Rock Drive as it snakes through the monument never fails to evoke a sense of wonderment as the red rock canyons and towering spires pass by. That’s not to mention the discoveries that await those who get out of their vehicles to explore the monument on a more intimate level. There’s no doubt the monument should be included among those few things rightfully described as awesome.

The question is not so much if the Colorado National Monument meets the criteria to become a national park. It does. The question is whether or not such a change is in the best interests of the Grand Valley community that lives at the very borders of the monument. That includes, of course, the business community.

Two Colorado lawmakers have announced the formation of a committee to answer that very question. The 16-member committee includes broad representation from various business interests and government entities as well as associations that promote the monument and surrounding environs. Moreover, several members of the group have stressed the importance of involving the public in their deliberations.

U.S. Sen. Mark Udall and U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton are to be commended for putting in place a process that considers park designation from such a bottom up, rather than top down, manner. It does no good to propose legislation creating a park without substantial support from the community most affected by the change.

Now it’s a matter of weighing the potential effects — good as well as possibly bad — of changing the monument to a park.

The biggest potentially good effect could come from the increased tourism business a national park could generate. Although the Colorado National Monument ranks among the top attractions to the Grand Valley, there’s always been some confusion over what visitors will find there. Is the monument a roadside marker or statute? There’s no confusion over the expectations associated with a national park. Travelers across the United States — and across the globe, for that matter — seek out national parks because of the natural wonders they know they’ll encounter. Of course, there’s no guarantee the change from monument and park would instantly attract droves of tourists or fleets of tour buses. Visitation hasn’t wildly spiked since Black Canyons or Sand Dunes in Western Colorado were redesignated as national parks.

Meanwhile, there are concerns about the potential bad effects of the change, that national park designation could hinder the growth and development of the community. Joan Anzelmo, superintendent of the Colorado National Monument, insists that many such worries are unfounded because the monument already is operated under the same laws and policies as national parks.

Changing the Colorado National Monument to a national park requires a thorough deliberation as well as the thorough involvement of the public. Here’s hoping the newly formed committee enjoys success on both counts. And if it’s determined the change really is in the best interests of the Grand Valley, here’s looking forward to the creation of a national park that richly deserves that designation.