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A Cautionary Tale About Inflated Numbers

Despite the fact that Congressman Scott Tipton has permanently abandoned any attempt to introduce legislation creating a restrictive national park where the Colorado National Monument now stands, you can bet that if Mark Udall wins in 2014 this issue will again rear its ugly and divisive head. The GJ Sentinel ran a recent editorial citing Pinnacles National Park as a remarkable example of economic benefit to nearby communities. But, as the editors of the Sentinel are wont to do, they omitted some critical facts relevant to their case. Here, author, historian and outdoors man Charles Quimby, clarifies and corrects that narrative.

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If you haven’t yet made up your mind about the Colorado National Monument/National Park question, let me offer one piece of advice. Never rely on numbers provided by local boosters—even if they are reported in your local newspaper.

The latest example appeared in a recent glowing report on the new Pinnacles National Park, suggesting similar economic results might be bestowed on us.

Pinnacles became a national park in January 2013, and according to local boosters in nearby Soledad, California, visitation is up 30% from its monument days. Local sales tax revenues are up 20%—even better than the 11% figure the same source gave a California reporter at the end of June!

At first I thought, maybe it’s true. A first year jump in attendance wouldn’t be unheard of, and it’s not hard to show a big percentage increase in a small economy. (Soledad, after all, has only one motel and a population of about 26,000, 40% of whom are incarcerated.)

But just to make sure, I checked the annual and monthly visitation data reported by the National Park Service for every park and monument in the country. 

It’s true attendance went up at Pinnacles in 2013 over 2012, although only by 6%. But 2013 was lower than in 2011 or 2010. One would have to go further back in history to come up with a 30% increase. 

Okay, maybe they meant so far in 2014. Nope. According to NPS numbers, each month has been well below the same month last year. At this rate, it’s likely 2014 will fall back to 2012 levels, a pattern seen in other monument-to-park conversions.

Making local economic boosters stick to the facts is beyond my powers, but I still hold out hope for better fact-checking of anecdotes and balanced reporting in my local paper.

Charles Quimby  July 9, 2014

Endnote courtesy of Kent Carson: 

Coincidentally, the city of Soledad raised its sales tax rate by 20% at the end of 2012.

“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”~ Mark Twain

 

National Park Service Director Unilaterally Bans Fuel Haulers in Monument

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With little public input from the people of the ranching community or Glade Park and without consulting with the Board of Commissioners in Mesa County, the National Park Service (NPS) Director at the Colorado National Monument (CNM), Lisa Eckert, announced that vehicles containing “hazardous” cargo would be banned from using the route they have used for decades.

The road in question is Monument Road, which joins the road to Glade Park just a few miles inside the boundaries of the CNM. Ranchers and other residents of Glade Park, a rural community situated on the plateau above the Colorado National Monument, use Monument Road to haul goods, equipment, hay, fertilizer, livestock, fuel, and other necessities, to and from their operations. Eckert seeks to prohibit all these materials, whether or not they present a danger to traffic on the Monument and despite the fact that there have been no reports of ‘hazardous materials’ being released into the environment due to an accident on the road.

A Grand Junction Daily Sentinel article by Gary Harmon, dated June 14, details the unilateral decision made by the National Park Service:

Trucks hauling propane or other fuels to Glade Park no longer will be allowed to deliver to their customers via Monument Road as of Aug. 1, the National Park Service told residents.

Monument Road is being ruled out as a route for Glade Park deliveries because of safety concerns that were aired in listening sessions with Glade Park and other residents, Colorado National Monument Superintendent Lisa Eckert said.

This decision deals a blow to the residents of Glade Park, most of whom use propane for heating and require shipments of gasoline and other fuels for their farming equipment. Ranchers and farmers depend on the easy access that Monument Road provides from the Grand Valley to Glade Park at the top of the Monument. The only alternative route is Little Park Road to the east of Monument Road which is longer, more difficult to navigate, and must pass through neighborhoods on several narrow, unimproved byways. Little Park Road presents many obstacles to those hauling goods to Glade Park, and increases the likelihood of future accidents.

This action by the NPS was taken without regard for the personal and property rights of the citizens living adjacent to protected lands. Harmon’s article goes on to illustrate this “bad neighbor” attitude with the words of one Glade Park resident:

“The notice comes as two federal lawmakers are considering legislation to redesignate Colorado National Monument as a national park and it undermines promises that nothing about the monument would change,” Glade Park resident Lynn Grose said.

Grose sat on a committee that in 2011 and 2012 studied the pros and cons of park status.

“We were promised over and over that there would be no change,” Grose said. “Now they’re making changes without even a national-park designation.”

This development makes national park designation more problematic because it provides a real-time example of government overreach, however the NPS must deal with the precedent which established permanent access to Monument Road for vehicles traveling to glade Park. Litigated in 1986, Wilkenson vs. Department of the Interior, was the landmark lawsuit brought against the NPS by some residents of Glade Park to establish access through the Monument via Monument Road. The National Park Service was rebuffed by the United States District Court in the final decision which gave ranchers and residents, regardless of what they might be hauling, full, free, and permanent access to Monument Road as the main route to and from their homes and work in Glade Park. Attempts by the NPS to levy fees for use of the road, as well as ban commercial traffic, were rejected by the court. The decision on behalf of Glade Park residents was unequivocal:

ORDERED, ADJUDGED AND DECREED, that a public right of way exists in that portion of Rim Rock Drive extending from the East entrance of the Colorado National Monument to the Glade Park Cut-Off, and across the Glade Park Cut-Off, connecting the DS Road in Glade Park with the Monument Road to Highway 340, and the use of that road for the purpose of continuous travel through the Monument is a non-recreational use for which no entrance fee may lawfully be charged, and the defendants are enjoined from charging any such fee or otherwise preventing such non-recreational use of the roadways. The Clerk shall enter judgment, accordingly, and the plaintiffs are awarded their costs upon the filing of a bill of costs within 10 days from the entry of judgment.

The latest decision by the National Park Service is clearly unlawful, and ultimately damaging to the hoped-for redesignation of the Colorado National Monument to a national park. It’s unlikely that this is the end of the ongoing saga of the battle for Monument Road, now waged for decades by the National Park Service against residents of Glade Park, over what is in essence, a lifeline sustaining a small ranching community on the outskirts of the Colorado National Monument.

 

National Parks and Wilderness Preserves are Mandatory EPA Class I Areas

National parks and wilderness preserves are rarely, if ever, exempted from EPA Mandatory Class I Air Quality Standards.

The protective caveats in the draft proposal crafted by the local panel exist because two of its five members stood fast on the principle of keeping the Colorado Monument as it is. The proposal, in the words of Senator Udall, was “unprecedented.” But acceptance of the proposal by interests in the Grand Valley was contingent on those unprecedented conditions, which are:

  • No buffer zones
  • Governance by a local Advisory Board
  • Class II Airshed Standards

They are unprecedented because ALL OTHER COLORADO NATIONAL PARKS have been created with those conditions. Most national parks west of the Mississippi have Class I designation, with the exception of Death Valley NP which is remote and far removed from any human settlements. 57 of 60 NATIONAL PARKS have:

  • Buffer zones for present and future expansion and protection
  • Federal governance
  • Class I Airshed Standards

A great deal of backlash has resulted from those unprecedented conditions. If a national park bill is actually introduced, those conditions will be stripped because of intense lobbying by NGOs such as the National Parks Conservation Association, Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, Conservation Colorado and others.

The existence of a national park in Western Colorado means that Colorado energy interests and other developers will have to wage an ongoing war with the National Park Service, BLM, EPA and other agencies.  Self-appointed environmental watchdog groups, which focus like a laser on national parks, will set up in local storefronts and prepare to file injunctions and lawsuits at the drop of a hat. Local economies will be impacted and existing operations will be threatened. The answer to this future nightmare?

Just say NO to a new national park.

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