A Classic Western Quarrel:
A History of the Road Controversy at Colorado National Monument
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Origins of the Road Controversy: 1951-1980

Administration of Colorado National Monument; 1951-1980

Between 1951 and 1953, Colorado National Monument was on the verge of another administrative shift. Since 1935, it had been officially run by a coordinating superintendent at Mesa Verde National Park, although the real work of managing the park belonged to the resident ranger and two assistant rangers. Personnel by 1951 had not changed very much. There was still a resident ranger, referred to as superintendent, and two rangers on duty in the park. Officials from Mesa Verde continued to conduct inspections. By 1952 the staff had expanded and began more specialized training. Rangers attended fire and personnel training conferences and, in May 1952, the first seasonal rangers were hired for the summer. [401]

While the boom in post-World War II tourism generated more interpretive and protective duties on the part of the rangers, the bulk of activity in Colorado National Monument between 1951 and 1953 centered on the maintenance of Rim Rock Drive. Russell Mahan, who became superintendent of the Monument in 1949, believed that national monuments and parks were "for the people's use and enjoyment." [402] As a result, the improvement of facilities and roads was first priority during his years as superintendent. Approximately 16 miles of road seal-coating was completed during Mahan's first two years as superintendent. [403] A maintenance crew was employed throughout the year to work on other aspects of road upkeep. One of the issues that kept park officials in contact with local officials was the status of approach roads to the park. Both the Fruita and Grand Junction roads needed repair and it was determined that the status of these roads had "an adverse effect" on visitation levels by the summer of 1951. [404] The improvement of other park facilities, including a group picnic area, also took place. [405] In March of that year, a new checking station was installed near the Saddlehorn just west of the current visitor center. [406]

Interpretive services, although seemingly overshadowed by the attention given to the development of the park's road and facilities, also had an important place in the park's agenda. Like his predecessors, Mahan established a strong rapport with local clubs and organizations. [407] In a 1952 speech to the Grand Junction Rotary Club, Mahan disclosed elements of the Monument's master plan: expanded camping facilities, a museum, a ranger residence, a new checking station at the Grand Junction entrance and more road oiling. [408] Keeping local residents abreast of the park's plans was an integral part of Mahan's superintendency.

The Monument was also entering a period when it was the subject of a different kind of media attention. Stories about the park had always regularly appeared in the Daily Sentinel, which covered everything from John Otto's early letters to the editor to information on the construction of Rim Rock Drive. By the 1950s, however, the historical significance of the park had become a popular topic. Ironically, one of the first feature articles appeared in Empire Magazine in September 1951 and told the story of "early pioneer" John Otto. Otto himself died less than a year later in June 1952, his legacy and dedication to the park only beginning to be appreciated. [409]

Park officials were surprised to learn in June 1953 that the Colorado National Monument and the Black Canyon had been removed from Mesa Verde's administration. Instead, both areas were placed under the Monument's jurisdiction. Mahan pointed out the disadvantages to the Monument: "It will mean quite a load with no clerical help but we will carry on with 'business as usual.'" [410] For the most part, activity in the park remained essentially what it had been before the change. Development of facilities continued to be the main goal of Monument officials. The additional responsibility of Black Canyon included inspections of that park, which was in the midst of facility improvement and construction. Management of Black Canyon, however, never interfered with the development of Colorado National Monument.

In 1955, Colorado National Monument was included in a nationwide plan to improve and expand facilities throughout the National Park System. Known as Mission 66, this plan responded to the overwhelming increase in tourism that had arisen in the post-World War II years and to the projected 80 million visitors estimated to descend upon the parks in 1966. The program was set to begin in 1956 and to end during the 50th anniversary of the National Park Service in 1966. Mission 66 had several goals: to conduct a "study of the national park problem"; to develop the parks so they could accommodate visitor needs; to construct employee housing; and to provide more convenient and often longer hours for maximum visitor use and enjoyment. [411] Congress expressed its support by allotting $48,866,300 for fiscal year 1956 and made comparable, if not larger, appropriations each year thereafter. The estimated total cost reached $786 million. [412]

The prospectus for Mission 66 in Colorado National Monument and Black Canyon was completed in June 1956 and approved in February l957. [413] In Colorado National Monument, Mission 66 brought about numerous changes in the development and administration of the park. First, it modernized the Monument's facilities and increased the park staff. The construction of new hiking trails, interpretive signs, ranger residences, and a new visitor center provided permanent facilities not only for visitors, but also for personnel. Mission 66 was also a great public relations tool for park officials. Reports and presentations about the progress of Mission 66 projects were regularly given to a variety of local organizations, including the Grand Junction and Fruita chambers of commerce. Frequent "indoctrination trips" were made to Denver, Ouray, Montrose, and Delta, to create interest in Monument activities. [414] In this way the Park Service maintained its link to the community and continued to gain support for the park. In addition, park officials implemented new regulations in response to the increase in both local park use and out-of-state tourism.

According to the Monument prospectus, the biggest problem facing the park was the "inadequacy of present developments and services for visitors." [415] In the first quarter of 1955, the Monument was the second most popular attraction in Colorado, with a visitor draw rivaled only by Rocky Mountain National Park. [416] At an estimated cost of $743,920, Mission 66 developments for the Monument were in full swing by the spring of 1957. A museum prospectus was completed in April 1957, and in May 1957 a geologic history of the park was planned. Bids for the construction of three employee residences were taken as well. [417] In November 1958, the first sites for the proposed visitor center were considered and, in May 1963, it was completed and open to the public. [418] Other improvements included road and trail work, roadside exhibits, and the movement of the Fruita entrance station to its present location.

Civic organizations contributed to the improvements in the park as well. A highway sign contributed by the Fruita Chamber of Commerce was constructed in July 1956. [419] In 1960 the Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce constructed a 10-foot by 40-foot sign at the junction of Highways 6 and 50 and Colorado Highway 340 near Fruita. People not familiar with the park were confused by its name; they thought it was a manmade monument commemorating the state or the river. In order to clarify its identity and better advertise the Monument, the Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce decided to put up the sign. [420]

Personnel also shifted during the Mission 66 years. The most significant changes were increases in ranger and maintenance positions and the frequency of employee turnover. By July 1955, a new superintendent, Homer Robinson, had replaced Mahan. Other personnel included one permanent ranger, two seasonals, one seasonal naturalist, four maintenance men, and a new chief ranger. [421] In 1958, an almost entirely new staff worked at the park when Fred Bussey entered as the new superintendent. [422] Bussey was active in the promotion and planning of Mission 66 projects during his six years at the Monument (1958-1964).

Local perceptions regarding Mission 66 varied over the years. Park Service officials made every effort to educate and include local organizations in the Mission 66 process, but by 1959 not everyone was convinced that Mission 66 was in the best interest of the local community. In July 1959, the Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce Tourist Committee criticized Mission 66 and accused the Monument of being "poor relatives" to the National Park Service. [423] By September 1959, the Monument was once again the subject of negative publicity regarding Mission 66. This time it involved a conflict over whose needs were more important in determining Mission 66 projects: local residents or out-of-state visitors. Local residents felt that access to the lower canyons and jeep roads was important and that these improvements should be addressed by the Park Service. In his monthly report Bussey summarized Park Service beliefs regarding Mission 66:

Since most of the demands appear to be of special interest to local rather than out of state visitors, efforts have been made to point out the importance of first taking care of the needs of out-of-state visitors, such as more campground facilities, improved roads, additional interpretive facilities, turnouts, and overlooks under the Mission 66 program. Local needs are recognized, but are in lower priority on the Mission 66 program. [424]

Despite this, Superintendent Bussey continued to make Mission 66 presentations to local organizations and the Daily Sentinel continued its coverage of Mission 66 projects. It was clear that Bussey's interpretation of Mission 66 reflected the Park Service's original purpose in creating the program: to accommodate tourism. In August 1959, Monument officials continued to emphasize the importance of the out-of-state visitor. A presentation to the Lions Club, and contact with the Daily Sentinel, Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce, and the chamber's Tourist Committee were part of the campaign to make local residents understand why out-of-state visitor needs were important to Mission 66. [425]

Another element of the Mission 66 program that drew negative responses from the community was that of fee collection. In June 1960, the new east entrance station opened. Glade Park landowners, worried that they would be inconvenienced by fee payment, were reassured by Bussey that they would not be required to pay. They would instead receive "season gate passes" that enabled residents to access the "shortest, most direct route to and from the Glade Park area" but did not allow them to use any other Monument facilities. [426] Anyone visiting Glade Park residents was required to use the east entrance and go directly to Glade Park without any stops, except in cases of emergency. [427] A modification of James Luther's 1939 fee collection, this policy became problematic once population levels in Glade Park increased. For the time being, however, it appeased fretful local residents, who were beginning to realize the disadvantages of having a national park in close proximity.

The Mission 66 years also marked more boundary changes for the Monument. The draft for presidential proclamation 3307 was submitted in November 1958. It eliminated 211 acres of unwanted land from the park, and added 120 acres necessary for development of administrative facilities at the park entrances. [428] It was accepted on August 7, 1959. Additionally, in November 1959, the county and the Park Service finally agreed upon the future of the old Serpents Trail. The status of the trail had been in question since 1937, when the Park Service was about to construct the final section of the Rim Rock Drive. Higher level Park Service officials and residents of adjacent communities felt that the trail was the logical route for the last portion of the road. Engineers F.A. Kittredge and T.W. Secrest, however, disagreed. At that time, the county ceased its periodic maintenance of the trail, leaving the Park Service to determine whether to maintain the old trail, include it as part of the new Rim Rock Drive, or simply construct the final segment along a different route. [429] Eventually, the final segment of Rim Rock Drive was constructed through No Thoroughfare Canyon. By 1941, the Park Service had begun proceedings for the county to abandon the Serpents Trail. [430] In 1950, the Serpents Trail was closed to vehicular traffic and was essentially dormant. [431] Finally in November 1959, the Mesa County Commissioners adopted a resolution for the abandonment of the old Serpents Trail road. According to the resolution, Mesa County claimed it had no interest in the trail, and officially vacated it. As a result, the trail was declared unnecessary for public ingress or egress on the Monument. [432]

By June 1961, the section of the Serpents Trail from the east side tunnel to the floor of No Thoroughfare Canyon had been rehabilitated as a hiking trail within the Monument. [433] Once the product of a fervent community desire for a more direct route to Glade Park and the first scenic drive into the Monument, the Serpents Trail became a simple footpath. Its abandonment and subsequent refurbishment symbolized the changes that had taken place in the park during the Mission 66 years.

Most of the major Mission 66 projects within Colorado National Monument had been completed by 1965. A new visitor center, employee residences, trails, roadside exhibits, directional signs on the highway, expanded camping facilities, and an increased staff brought to the Monument the kinds of things it needed in order to function as a tourist attraction. More importantly, these facilities indicated a break from how the park was managed and used in its early years. Rim Rock Drive was the Monument's first step toward modernity, but the Mission 66 facilities significantly contributed to the growing popularity of the park.

The year 1965 also marked another administrative shift. In April 1965 three national park areas—Colorado National Monument, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Monument, and Curecanti National Recreational Area—became part of the Curecanti Group and were administered by a general superintendent. [434] Because the three parks were small and underdeveloped, officials reasoned that it was easier to administer them from a central office. [435] Headquarters for the Curecanti Group, or Colorado West Group, as it was eventually called, were located in Montrose, Colorado. The Colorado West Group was seemingly a step away from what had been efficient leadership by individual superintendents in the park. Yet, toward the end of this administration, some of the strongest and most controversial policy decisions were made. Between 1965 and 1975, when the Colorado West Group eventually dissolved, the Monument had three different managers: Paul Ellis (1965-1969), Robert Powell (1969-1972), and Robert Benton (1972-1980). While these men essentially fulfilled the same duties, they acquired different titles over the years: Ellis as Management Assistant, Powell as District Ranger, and Benton as Superintendent. Each of these managers inherited the problems of accessibility that surfaced shortly after Rim Rock Drive opened.

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Last Updated: 09-Feb-2005