With it’s recent joint resolution, the Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce culminates nearly a century of support and advocacy to re-designate the Colorado National Monument to a national park. It’s resolution with the Grand Junction Economic Partnership notes both the economic benefits a national park could bring the Grand Valley along with it’s historic importance. The GJ Chamber’s connection to our majestic canyons is long and storied. It’s original members were also the original boosters, backing John Otto’s 1907 petition for national park status. In 2011, the Legends committee of Grand Junction erected a magnificent statue of Otto astride his horse and reprinted a book, local writer, Al Look wrote about his friend Otto in 1961 called, “John Otto and the Colorado National Monument”. The book offers a glimpse through local history, detailing how the Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce, at Otto’s dogged urging, officially petitioned then Secretary of the Interior James A. Garfield to set the area aside as a National Park.
President Taft finally rewarded the community’s unflagging support and John Otto’s enterprising leadership with monument status in 1911. Look writes that over the next two decades the Grand Junction Chamber would help pay for fencing materials, upkeep and even for a portion of the 45-thousand dollars it took to build Monument road leading to the Canyon’s east entrance. The City of Grand Junction and Mesa County, he wrote, also footed the bill.
Later, in 1927, the National Park Service appointed the Grand Junction Chamber to officially supervise the national monument. The Chamber held the role for four years. During that brief time it’s leaders successfully petitioned the NPS to survey and create a spectacular road over the national monument. A poor economy helped. In 1931, the government ordered the Civilian Conservation Corp to go to work building Rim Rock Drive, at the then nearly unfathomable cost of 1-million dollars.
The Chamber would go on to support future pushes to re-designate the national monument a national park. The last push, in the early 1990’s, would have tripled the size of the Colorado National Monument but the effort failed for lack of support and leadership. The latest push, started two years ago when Congressman Scott Tipton and Senator Mark Udall joined forces to appoint a study group to address local concerns and answer questions. The positive findings of that group and subsequent research led to the formation of Grand Valley Region Citizens for a National Park and to an overwhelming wave of community support by businesses, organizations and citizens who feel the time for a national park has finally come.
John Otto once told National Park Service officials, ” The truth is written in the rocks.” He did not mislead them or our community. The Grand Valley’s original $45-thousand dollar investment in the Colorado National Monument over time has proved an economic windfall, repaid hundreds of times over. Today, visitors to the Colorado National Monument bring Mesa County an average of 23-million dollars per year. It’s estimated national park status, the original goal of John Otto, and our community, would further enhance that original investment, drawing foreign and domestic tourists who currently land at Grand Junction Regional Airport then proceed directly to Arches National Park. Fact is, the world’s largest tour companies target national parks but ignore national monuments like ours.
More than 100 years after the original push for a national park and after years of study and haggling, we have never been closer to achieving John Otto’s dream of national park status. While the Grand Junction Visitor and Convention Bureau has long since usurped the Chamber’s role as one of the national monument’s primary boosters, the Grand Junction Chamber’s support through time of re-designation to a national park cannot be unwoven from the rich fabric of it’s history. The Chamber’s recent resolution not only strengthen’s and renews it’s old ties to the monument but forever forward forges it’s place in local and national history, as an advocate to create a national park in what John Otto called the “…heart of the world.” It also underscores the now famous words of Wallace Stegner, “National Parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best, rather than our worst.” GVRCNP thanks the Grand Junction Chamber for their recent and future support to make John Otto’s dream a reality.