The Grand Junction Visitors and Convention Bureau asked Grand Valley Region Citizens for a National Park to update their board Tuesday, December 10, 2013 on the forward status of the national park. This was the update and call to action:
“Back in June of 2013 U.S. Senator Mark Udall and U.S. Congressman Scott Tipton, stood, literally arm in arm, with Independence rock and a perfect Colorado blue sky frameless behind them to announce something almost unprecedented. They had appointed a five member committee of local citizens to draft community driven legislation to elevate the Colorado National Monument to a national park. At the time U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton rightly told CBS4 in Denver ‘It would draw more international visitors, would help the hospitality sector, the service sector, it would help an area where unemployment is too high.’
The goal at that time was to complete the draft legislation by August. It’s December now, so a little bit behind schedule but then again, appropriate because this is the holiday season and there is no greater gift our community could receive than a national park.
It was not too long ago, that very exceptional group of people—the committee of five– handed legislators their initial draft, after investing an entire summer’s worth of considerable thought, constructive discussion and personal time away from work and family. Since then, Senator Mark Udall and Congressman Tipton have done more than their due diligence to put that legislation under critical review in Washington D.C..
Those of us with Grand Valley Region Citizens for a National Park would like to offer sincerest thanks to the appointed committee of five who duly laid aside any political or private agendas to put the Grand Valley community and our magnificent canyons first. Glade Park rancher Warren Gore, Kristi Pollard whose experience regarding oil and gas concerns was invaluable, to Michael Burke of the Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce, to Jamie Lummis, of Moody’s Insurance who is also a member of GJEP and represented the local cycling community, and to Ginny McBride who always faithfully represents the Colorado National Monument. The committee is now arranging to meet in just days to take a final look at the legislation, review and revise and then make it available to the public.
U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton and U.S. Rep. Mark Udall share an enormous concern that the Grand Valley continues to struggle economically while eastern Colorado continues to grow and prosper. I can only assure you they have been working extremely hard behind the scenes to ensure our community driven draft legislation undergoes a meticulous review by their staff, so that when it reaches their committee’s for final review, it will have every chance of successful passage, just as Pinnacles National Park, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and Great Sand Dunes National Park passed before it.
U.S. Rep. Mark Udall’s father first began his family legacy of preservation by helping to create some fantastic national park lands in Utah. Mr. Udall will continue that family legacy with the Colorado National Monument to national park proposal and others to create national monuments.
U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton’s family knows better than most the economic impact of a national park. Tipton founded an impressive business in Cortez decades ago, selling American Indian pottery. According to the Wall Street Journal, Mesa Verde Indian Pottery and Mesa Verde Trading have become some of the best-known pottery firms in southwest Colorado’s Four Corners region . Mesa Verde National Park has supported Mr. Tipton’s family and thousands more like his for decades catering to the international and national tourists who flock to the World Heritage Site.
Also, when towns around Pinnacles National Monument were suffering an enormous economic downturn, their communities lobbied Washington extensively trying to persuade them to grant a long time dream of a national park. Mr. Tipton was on the committee that approved the elevation of Pinnacles National Monument to a national park and helped address that area’s economic crisis. One year after it’s designation Pinnacles has seen a 33 percent increase in visitors which equated to an additional 90 thousand visitors this year over last. Today Mr. Tipton has the chance to do the same here in Mesa County, for our canyons, our residents and our businesses in his very own district.
Today in those California towns near Pinnacles National Park (as in Montrose near the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park) the immediate international recognition, branding, and foreign tourism has become a vital part of healing a stagnant economy. The same is true to our south in Montrose. When local leaders there work to recruit new business Jenny Sopsic, Executive Director of the Montrose Chamber of Commerce tell me the national park is their number one asset. Montrose sales and use tax revenues, along with lodging tax revenues (unlike Mesa County) are up and growing. The county and city have attracted so many big box and smaller new businesses Montrose residents who used to regularly shop in our town and visit our mall during the holidays…according to Sopsic now stay in Montrose to shop.
You’ve read the latest statistics showing lodging tax and total sales and tax revenues are down in Mesa County, that our foreclosure rate remains the second highest of Colorado’s 12 metro areas, second only to Pueblo. Mesa County unemployment still hovers near 8 percent. You’ve read about the cuts to the much loved Riverfront Project and GJEP and public safety and other vital programs we care about. In the first week of December (2013) the Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce also released this Economic Survey for the year 2013:
1. 72 percent of 250 respondents still view the local economy as weak or extremely weak, not a significant change from last year.
2. 41 percent will continue to delay capital investments for the next six months because of the economy.
3. 14 percent expect to cut some employees.
4. 29 percent are now less optimistic than last year.
And most telling of all:
5. 49 percent believe it will be 2015 or later before we see the economy BEGIN to recover.
It’s fully within the realm of possibility, once the appointed local committee releases their draft legislation, our representatives could use their expertise to officially introduce this legislation after the January session begins and with due diligence put it before the two deciding committees to which they belong before April and spring thaw in the rockies.
While we deeply respect the measured, entirely community driven and highly thorough approach our legislators have taken, after 107 years of on again, off again discussion and exhaustive review within our community, we believe our representatives have all the information they need to move forward. Our community has waited long enough. Now, that hard won draft legislation exists we call on Senator Udall and Congressman Tipton to act with a sense of urgency to introduce official legislation to elevate our monument to a national park in the upcoming session.
There is indisputable historic community precedent for this effort. Unlike the vast majority of U.S. regions who would love to have a national park, the Colorado National Monument meets every exacting requirement for park status. Those are the top reasons the CNM should be elevated to a national park but as numerous realtors, builders, restaurant, hotel, and winery owners anticipating park status tell us, the instant national and international exposure that comes with park status would also help lift them and our entire economy out of the current morass of a lingering recession. Not just the Grand Valley but all of the struggling Western Colorado towns surrounding us would benefit from increased tourism.
Per the VCB’s request, I’ve written a letter your members can forward to our representatives asking them to act with urgency, foresight and leadership and introduce legislation in the current session.
Representative Scott Tipton and Senator Mark Udall together have led the Grand Valley community on this journey for three long years now. Two committees and reams of positive data later, it’s time to get it done. Doing so will ensure that during their limited time in office, both men leave a lasting legacy sure to recognize and protect a magnificent landscape and at the same time positively benefit generations of residents and businesses for years to come.”