A Classic Western Quarrel:
A History of the Road Controversy at Colorado National Monument
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The Otto Years: 1911-30 (continued)

The Chamber of Commerce and its New Program, 1927-1931

Between 1927 and 1930, the Colorado National Monument underwent a number of significant administrative changes that signalled increased National Park Service involvement. Although Otto stated that he had no further interest in the Colorado National Monument, he continued to grace the National Park Service with his opinions and suggestions. In the meantime, the National Park Service searched for a suitable custodian for the Colorado National Monument. After all of the turbulence surrounding Otto's dismissal, Frank Merriell was not appointed custodian. Park Service officials seemed to think that he would accept the position right after Otto's ouster. Merriell, however, expressed on several occasions that, before he accepted the job, he wanted members of the chamber of commerce to meet with Otto and "tactfully bring to his attention the need for a change." [252] The problem of actually eliminating Otto's interference seemed to exacerbate the effort to hire a new custodian. It is not clear if Merriell felt threatened by Otto, but the fact that he never accepted the position indicates that this was a possibility.

By April, 1927, Grand Junction businessman A.T. Gormley had been offered the custodianship with the assurance that Otto was no longer affiliated with the Monument [253] Otto seemed satisfied with this choice, and had at an earlier point even recommended Gormley as a possible candidate for the job. [254] Gormley accepted, and attempted to resume Otto's interrupted plans for fencing the park. The National Park Service appropriated $400 for fencing materials. In August of that year, however, plans for the park were once again interrupted when Gormley resigned. Otto took the opportunity to remind the Park Service that since he had been "bucked out" nothing had been done to improve the Colorado National Monument. He also pointed out that Gormley had been too impatient and ill-prepared to handle some of the physical tasks necessary for the custodianship. [255]

The resignation of Gormley left the National Park Service and local park promoters in a familiar quandary. Park Service officials were faced with the challenge of finding a "local representative" to manage the Monument's affairs, since it still was not able to finance a fulltime employee at the park. Otto expressed his interest in the position, but the Park Service was not willing to reappoint him. Instead, they suggested that perhaps Otto, working under the Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce, might manage the park. [256] By late October, 1927, the Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce had officially accepted the responsibility of administering the Colorado National Monument. Of course the Park Service still exercised ultimate authority over the park's development. [257]

The chamber's new position of authority persuaded Park Service officials and politicians to consider constructing a road through the Colorado National Monument. While the Serpents Trail was certainly better than no road at all, it did not access some of the park's more outstanding features. Due to increasing tourist levels and the chamber's increasing embarrassment over the Monument's lack of facilities, it requested an appropriation of $5,000 from Colorado Senator Lawrence Phipps for the construction of a smaller road from the edge of Monument Canyon to Independence Monument. [258] It was hoped that a road across the park could also be constructed eventually. The larger road spanning the park would cost an estimated $50,000, and was necessary if the Colorado National Monument was ever to reach its potential as a tourist attraction:

The difficulty in making available the features of the area has been the lack of a highway leading into it. People come here from all sections of the United States with the object of seeing the Monument, only to find that although good roads lead to its boundary at various places, to actually see it requires an uncomfortable trip by horseback or foot. [259]

Senator Phipps responded by urging the National Park Service to consider the road proposals. [260] In March, 1928, the Park Service requested that its Chief Engineer, F.A. Kittredge, visit the Monument to survey the proposed road plans for both the trans-Monument route and the shorter road through Monument Canyon. [261] Kittredge eventually inspected the Colorado National Monument twice. The second inspection, in August, 1930, was the most beneficial to the park's road development plan. A tentative appropriation of $2500 was offered after Kittredge made his inspection and recommended that contract work commence on the road around the rim of the park. [262] The money would only be available, however, if the road was built according to National Park guidelines and if the county was willing to build approach roads to the park. [263]

In the summer of 1930, the local community conducted some of its own surveys of the road proposal. In June, the chamber of commerce sent two engineers to survey a proposed "auto trail from the top of the Trail of the Serpent leading northward to take in as many of the canyons as possible." [264] Another group, including W.M. Wood of the Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce, and Al Look of the Daily Sentinel conducted an inspection of the road site in August. The result of this inspection was a local commitment to planning and financing the new road. The $2500 appropriation encouraged the chamber of commerce and the county to provide the additional expenses necessary for construction. The chamber agreed to conduct a proper survey, and to open construction to competitive bidding with the expectation that the county would be the low bidder. [265]

The $2500 appropriation symbolized progress to the local community. Ever since the chamber began its most recent campaign for a scenic route through the park, the hope for government funding had been slim. Park Service officials had originally planned for an appropriation from the 1930 budget. [266] This hope was dashed when in April, 1929, the Director of the National Park Service, Horace Albright, advised Senator Phipps that the 1930 Interior Department Appropriation Bill for national park and monument roads and trails had been cut. [267] Albright underestimated available funds. It is not clear if the money was left over from the 1930 appropriation, but $2500 was allotted and authorized by Albright for the proposed road. By April, 1931, another $5000 had been allocated by the National Park Service for the Colorado National Monument. [268]

Despite the appropriation, the uncertain relationship between the chamber and the county threatened to obstruct plans to start the road through the park. A disagreement arose when the county officials decided to expend less than the chamber of commerce had thought it would on the road. In his assessment of the situation, Park Service Engineer Kittredge stated that, because of the seriousness of this misunderstanding, the appropriation might be more productively used elsewhere. He also suggested that the Park Service make a "reconnaissance" of the possible routes in the spring of 1931, and complete a survey of the stretch of road to be constructed. Kittredge felt that Park Service involvement might appease both local factions, although he knew that the county's willingness to construct an approach road to the park was essential to the project. [269]

By late 1930, it was evident that, while the local management of Colorado National Monument was still strong, the National Park Service had begun to involve itself more heavily in the affairs of the park. The chamber of commerce still managed the park with the aid of Otto, who had ostensibly been working for the chamber and claimed to have been the "acting custodian" since his "resignation" in January 1927. [270] He resented the fact that the chamber received so much of the credit for the Monument's development, and still believed that his contribution to the park was more important. [271] With or without Otto's help, the chamber had effectively convinced National Park officials and politicians of the need for a road through the park, and in doing so had increased Park Service involvement. Both the National Park Service and the local communities of the Grand Valley were entering a new phase of their relationship.

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Last Updated: 09-Feb-2005