Former Superintendent on National Park Designation: 2011

*Statement of Joan Anzelmo, Superintendent, Colorado National Monument
At Senator Mark Udall’s Community Meeting, February 23, 2011
Mesa State College, Grand Junction, CO
Colorado National Monument : “Where once only birds could fly”
In the age of John Muir, some 1000 miles from Yosemite Valley, a kindred spirit and fervent conservationist, John Otto, was dedicating himself to protecting and promoting the land that today we know as Colorado National Monument.
Otto built the first trails into this rugged landscape to reach the glorious red rock canyons. He climbed the steeply tall monoliths to post the American Flag from the highest vantage points he could reach. He surveyed the first road, Trail of the Serpent – 4 miles with 52 switchbacks and designated “the crookedest road in the world.” He dreamed of building a road high above the majestic cliffs and canyons where once only birds could fly.
Otto worked tirelessly with the communities of Grand Junction and Fruita advocating for the creation of a national park to protect the extraordinary geology of ancient canyons and towering monoliths. He wrote relentlessly to Congress and the President, championing the cause for creation of a national park in western Colorado. Draft bills were written to create the park but they languished in the halls of Congress. Ultimately, President Taft used the Antiquities Act to protect the lands through presidential proclamation and established Colorado National Monument on May 24, 1911.
Otto was advocating for national park protection of this stunning Colorado canyon country on the heels of the very first national parks being established by Congress in the late 1800s and early 1900s. As a matter of fact, Colorado National Monument was protected through its establishment as a national monument before Rocky Mountain National Park was established a full four years later in 1915.
The spirit of conservation and the intent to protect lands for a greater public good was flourishing in the western Colorado in the early 1900s, thanks in large part to John Otto. Today that spirit continues to flourish with renewed community efforts to consider designating Colorado National Monument as a national park.
A designation of Colorado National Monument as a national park would more appropriately recognize the national significance of the geological processes, paleontology, the diversity of the flora and fauna, the sacred use by indigenous peoples, and the more recent human history that played out here including the Civilian Conservation Corps work. The addition of new scientific knowledge provides a more comprehensive understanding of the national significance of the Monument and the importance of protecting it for the benefit of present and future generations.
National parks unite us as a country and gather us together around the globe. They tell our story as a people; the glory
and the shame, the triumphs and the tragedies. They celebrate America’s incomparable landscapes. They provide places for sublime peace and contemplation and places for adventurous exploration. Their reservoirs of scientific knowledge and discoveries are helping cure diseases, solve crimes and are recording the beginnings of the earth to the present day changes in our planet.
It is no wonder that Wallace Stegner coined the phrase: “National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.”
We need them now more than ever.