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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.

pinnacles

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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

 

Retired Park Ranger Weighs in AGAINST a National Park

Retired park ranger, William Solawetz of Grand Junction, reaffirms the case that Friends of the Colorado National Monument has made against national park status for the Colorado National Monument.

His compelling letter to the editor was printed in the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel on July 4, 2014.

Delicate Arch Tourist Crowds

Tourists crowd the viewing area on the way to Delicate Arch in nearby Arches National Park.

Retired ranger concerned over monument redesignation

I am a retired Utah park ranger, manager and student of park management and design for over three decades. There are many reasons not to alter the current designation of Colorado National Monument, and I will mention a few.

I have visited the monument weekly, year-round since 2001. With relatively small increases in visitor use during that time, I have observed full parking lots at all times of year, as well as resource damage due to traffic overflow and congestion. Other damage has occurred from the creation of many social trails, vandalism and graffiti.

The monument is a very limited and finite resource. If money were invested, facilities could be improved and manpower increased, but there is little that can be done to mitigate the damage to the resource and the user experience, by flooding the area with more vehicles and footprints. Expansion of parking areas will only exacerbate crowding. Significant road improvement would destroy the resource we are attempting to preserve. Increases in global population and the subsequent travelers that come with it are more than enough for managers to contend with. You can help preserve John Otto’s legacy by not renaming the monument. It has been a monument for over 100 years.

While a very few people may benefit financially from a name change and the exposure it presents, the local population, visitors and the monument itself, as a natural resource that we have sworn to preserve, will be on the losing side.

Economic growth should not be a factor in deciding the designation of a national park. The purpose of designating an area as a national park or monument is to protect the area and its natural inhabitants for generations to come and for all Americans to share in its ownership and stewardship. This beautiful piece of canyon country is already protected and preserved with its monument designation. Any change in name or status would be redundant.

WILLIAM SOLAWETZ Grand Junction