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 (continued)

The Commercial Vehicle Issue, 1955-1978

No community felt more restricted by Park Service policies than Glade Park. At the center of the conflict was Rim Rock Drive, the main thoroughfare for Glade Park's residential and commercial traffic by the 1950s. The only other access to Glade Park from Grand Junction was Little Park Road, which had been constructed in 1884. Due to its gravel surface, Little Park Road was nearly impassable when wet.

When commercial traffic on Rim Rock Drive became more prevalent in 1955, park officials were still adjusting to the enormous impact of that road's construction on the park. With mounting threats to the Monument—vandalism, hunting, adjacent land activity—it was not surprising that heavy commercial traffic along Rim Rock alarmed Monument employees. In the Park Service's opinion, commercial traffic presented a threefold dilemma: it was a safety hazard, it inflicted long-term damage to the road, and it did not fit the philosophical premise of the Park Service mission. For Mesa County the commercial vehicle issue posed a financial risk because building new roads and improving existing roads was costly. Glade Park residents, on the other hand, viewed the issue as simply another restriction imposed by the Park Service. Eventually, efforts to restrict the use of Rim Rock Drive prompted a local backlash against the policies of the National Park Service.

Over the years, commercial vehicle use on Rim Rock Drive had taken many forms. In March 1955 park officials, already alerted by uranium mining activity near the west boundary, also became concerned by one mine company's regular shipments of ore over Rim Rock Drive. [444] By 1960, Superintendent Bussey, concerned over damage incurred by heavy truck use on Rim Rock Drive, established that vehicles going to Glade Park with a gross weight of eight tons or more were required to enter and leave the east entrance. [445] In 1963, Park Service concern prompted officials to attend the annual picnic of Glade Park Pinyon Mesa Stockmen's Association to discuss the mutual problems associated with commercial trucking. [446] In October 1963, a loaded three-decker semi-trailer stock truck obstructed a portion of Rim Rock for nearly two hours when it overturned to avoid a passenger car. This ordeal convinced park officials that commercial traffic was both dangerous and unsuited to Rim Rock's narrow lanes and numerous curves. Such large vehicles simply could not traverse the tight curves without crossing the center line. [447]

Early policy toward commercial vehicle use was inconsistent and indicated that decisionmaking at Colorado National Monument was weakened by its inclusion in the Curecanti Group. In July 1972, Park Service officials in Washington directed the Superintendent of the Curecanti Group, of which Colorado National Monument was a part, to reach an agreement with the Commander of the Defense Nuclear Agency (Department of Defense) regarding the use of 4.8 miles of Rim Rock Drive from the east entrance to the Glade Park turnoff. This stretch of road allowed the Department of Defense and its associate Mixed Company to access a nuclear test site at Glade Park. Under the conditions of the agreement, the Park Service allowed the Department of Defense to use the road, provided personnel to conduct inspections of the road, kept records of road repair costs and billed the Department of Defense for those repairs. The Department of Defense agreed to plan its deliveries of high explosives so as to avoid extensive damage to the road, provided personnel to jointly inspect the road, notified the Park Service of oversized loads and agreed not to cross Monument property without a Park Service escort. They also agreed to reimburse the Park Service for repair costs. The terms of the agreement were to extend until January 1974 barring any unexpected changes. [448]

By December 1972, however, Superintendent Robert Benton arrived at Colorado National Monument and the policy toward commercial traffic on Rim Rock Drive became more restrictive. Although the Monument was still under the authority of the Curecanti Group, Benton asserted his management style on the park. Like his predecessors, he maintained strong involvement in community organizations and events. At the same time, however, he often made decisions that were not popular with the community. Prior to his arrival at the park, Benton received an informal directive from the Colorado West Group's Superintendent Karl Gilbert, and the Midwest Regional Office in Omaha, Nebraska, to improve the Monument's mediocre status. Suffering from a lack of interpretive services, poor administration, and an increasingly lax attitude toward regulations, the Monument had fallen into disrepair during the Colorado West Group years. [449]

In July 1973, the "constant pressure" to allow heavy vehicles to access Glade Park via Rim Rock Drive compelled Benton to institute a number of "safety preventive measures." [450] The west entrance was to deny access to all commercial vehicles over one ton. A tentative meeting was arranged with the Glade Park Stockmen's Association to discuss road control and safety issues on the east side of the park. In addition, the Chief Ranger and the Superintendent traveled up Little Park Road to inspect it, and to determine whether it was capable of handling some diverted commercial traffic from Rim Rock Drive. Finally, Benton contacted Mesa County and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) concerning the possible improvement of Little Park Road. Both the BLM and Mesa County believed that such improvements were possible. In fact, at that time, even though officials knew the work would take several years, Mesa County "agree[d] in principle" to improve Little Park Road. [451] In August 1973 final plans for "signing and control" of the commercial traffic to Glade Park commenced. In December, Benton attended a meeting with the BLM and the Mesa County Road Department, in which Mesa County officials discussed their "intention" to improve Little Park Road to accommodate driving speeds of 45 to 50 miles per hour. [452]

A series of meetings in June and July 1974 revealed the extent to which the Park Service and local conflict had grown. In June 1974, Benton instituted new regulations on Rim Rock Drive. Trucks longer than 25 feet were restricted to using the road only between the hours of 9:00 P.M. and 6:00 A.M. and trucks over eight feet in width required a permit or a ranger escort. [453] Local stockmen vigorously protested the restrictions. In a meeting on June 16, 1974, the Mesa County Commissioners, Glade Park ranchers, and Benton presented their sides of the issue. Commissioner Ed Lamm pointed out that a great deal of county money had been contributed to Rim Rock Drive in the past. The stockmen argued that the alternate routes were more dangerous than Rim Rock for transporting stock. Benton discussed the issue of safety on a road that was not built to handle such large trucks. The meeting resolved nothing, as Glade Park residents essentially stated that they would not adhere to the regulations and Benton stated that he would stand by his decision. [454]

A well-attended public meeting held on June 25 resulted in modification of the restrictions. Park Service officials, including Deputy Regional Director Glen Bean, the general superintendent of the Curecanti Group, Karl Gilbert, and Park Service Regional Safety Officer Jim Dempsey were present. Non-Park Service officials included District Highway Engineer Dick Prosence representing the governor's office, Bill Cleary of Representative Jim Johnson's office and representatives for Senators Floyd Haskell and Peter Dominick. The modifications included the condition that trucks over 30 feet long were subject to restrictions between Memorial Day and Labor Day from 8:30 A.M. to 9:00 P.M. with the hours between 1:00 P.M. and 4:00 P.M. reserved for Park Service escorts. Logging trucks, however, were not subject to any restrictions as long as they did not cross the double yellow line. Glade Park stockmen were pleased with the changes, while the Park Service still expressed its concern over safety. The Park Service was primarily concerned about tourists who were unfamiliar with the road, rather than commercial drivers' ability to handle the road. The topic of constructing an alternate route was discussed briefly but not taken seriously. [455]

A meeting was held in July in which Benton explained to the Mesa County Commissioners that, while the Park Service was trying to remain flexible, the Monument simply did not have the "manpower" to provide escorts daily. [456] While he maintained that the limited access had been successful so far, in a six-day period the Park Service provided escorts to fifteen livestock trucks and eleven logging trucks. During this period the escorts took three hours per day away from visitor needs in the park, a fact that influenced Benton's decision to expand escort hours between 8:30 A.M. and 9:00 P.M. each day. [457] From 1974 to 1976, the escorts continued, and the superintendent made frequent trips to inspect the work being done on Little Park Road, which Mesa County had begun to upgrade. [458]

Opposition to the Park Service's regulations was not limited to the ranchers of Glade Park. The Daily Sentinel, once considered a great booster for the park, printed several editorials in the summer of 1974 that inflamed already negative local opinion of the Park Service. In one editorial, entitled "Senseless Order," the Sentinel pointed out how the commercial vehicle ban threatened the livelihoods of many Glade Park residents. Its author also questioned the authority of the Park to close the road, and stated that the road closure was simply a "power play, to make the Monument road—the only decent access to Glade Park—into a tourist road only." [459] The article concluded that Benton could easily reverse the "senseless restrictions" so that a court action would not be necessary. [460] Another editorial, entitled "New Road a Must," presented the idea that the road controversy could easily have been avoided had the Park Service not employed such "arbitrary" regulations:

... we blame the Park Service's bulldozing tactics for much of the trouble because National Park Service officials were dealing with a part of the West that doesn't bulldoze easily ... [461]

Such sentiments touched on a common theme that had been growing in the Grand Valley for years—western resentment of government intervention.

Despite increased local resentment toward the Park Service's road policy, the park itself continued to grow in area. In January 1977, plans for the expansion of the park's boundaries were underway as congressional authorization and a promise of $490,000 for land acquisition had already been assured. Included in the proposed 2,797 acres was the upper end of No Thoroughfare Canyon, a 145-acre tract near Red Canyon, over four acres that would correct a boundary fence error, thirteen acres of private land near the Fruita entrance, and close to 1,000 acres of other private tracts owned by the Fletchers, the Miracle Land Company, the Landing family, and Robert Burford. Two-thirds of the new acreage was under Bureau of Land Management administration. [462]

Superintendent Benton was especially pleased with the county commissioners' and the chamber of commerce's support of Senator Floyd Haskell and Representative Jim Johnson; both men led the congressional campaign to expand the park. Concerns over the original boundary revision, which would have traversed the county's Little Park and DS Roads, stemmed from the ongoing commercial vehicle conflict. Benton surmised that if those boundaries had been kept, the Park Service would have had to restrict commercial traffic on those roads as well. Fortunately, the boundaries were adjusted so that they only bordered the two roads. [463] In January 1978, 2,739.65 acres of land were added to the Monument. [464] Symbolic of the park's renewal under Benton, the additional land also signified that the local community could still be an important force in park development.

Between 1977 and 1979, Park Service concerns over the commercial vehicle issue deepened. In 1978, an estimated 200 heavy vehicles used Rim Rock Drive; of those, 107 were formally escorted by Park Service officials. [465] In a meeting including Superintendent Benton, Glade Park representatives, county commissioners, and state representative Bob Burford in February 1978, the Mesa County Commissioners committed themselves to "accelerating" the improvement of Little Park Road. Benton was particularly active in maintaining a dialogue with Glade Park residents and Mesa County officials. One of his main goals was to ensure that Mesa County would follow through on its promise to improve Little Park Road. [466]

By 1979, it was evident that no amount of compromise would resolve the commercial traffic issue any time soon. The Park Service aggressively worked to develop a policy that it believed would please all those involved. When the Cougar Mining Company, which was part of the W. W. Lang Company, approached the Monument about transporting shipments of barium ore across Rim Rock Drive from a mine located near the Utah state line, the Park Service denied the request until an assessment of the impacts could be made. [467] In April 1979, park officials conducted an experiment to support an environmental assessment that presented alternatives to the use of commercial vehicles on Rim Rock Drive. They hired a belly dumptruck from the local Corn Construction Company to drive Little Park Road and assess its potential as an access road. While Chief Ranger Hank Schoch videotaped the truck's progress on the road, Ranger Bob Randall rode in the truck. The driver of the truck determined that it was better than most mining roads he had driven. [468]

In the summer of 1979, the Park Service finalized an environmental review and list of four alternatives to the commercial vehicle issue: maintain the status quo, increase commercial vehicle use, decrease use, or eliminate it altogether. [469] Four hundred copies of the assessment were distributed to the community in the hopes that the regional director would make a decision regarding the issue by September. [470] Park officials were surprised that "reaction from Glade Park focuses on NPS rather than Mesa County." [471] Assuming that local residents were looking to the county for improvements, the Park Service underestimated local frustration with the federal government.

The Park Service preferred a combination of alternatives that included the complete elimination of commercial traffic by January 1, 1982. Until 1982, any commercial vehicles crossing the Monument would be required to provide their own escorts. In addition, Mesa County was expected to complete any extra improvements necessary on Little Park Road. While the Park Service was unable to provide any financial assistance, it did encourage Mesa County to apply for federal assistance. The Park Service alternative was deemed the most advantageous to the park itself: "Damage to the resources will be lessened, air quality improved and most pollution reduced." [472]

Local opposition to the Park Service alternative was prevalent. Numerous meetings between the Park Service, Mesa County, and residents of Glade Park indicated that the stagnancy of the situation had taken its toll on local patience. The county commissioners, after assessing the Park Service's authority to close the road, began to consider their alternatives, which included construction of another road to Glade Park and pursuit of federal legislation that would make that segment of Rim Rock Drive a county road. [473] One of the county's biggest obstacles, not surprisingly, was its budget. With nearly 500 miles of county roads to maintain, and other road projects besides the Glade Park road to consider, County Commissioner Maxine Albers expressed the local community's lack of patience with the Park Service:

The county will never be in a position to finance the road. The feds need to finance it. They caused the problem. [474]

By this time, the conflict between the Park Service and the local community had begun to echo some of the ideas generated by the "Sagebrush Rebellion." The "Sagebrush Rebellion" was originally a bill passed by the Nevada legislature which demanded state control of 49 million acres of federally held lands in that state. [475] Although the "Sagebrush Rebellion" ran its course in about two years, its powerful rhetoric was felt and understood throughout the Rocky Mountain West. Originally led by western ranchers, the rebellion appealed to Westerners' sense of rugged individualism and their historical "deep distrust of the federal government." [476] It pointed out the historical relationship between Westerners and what they viewed as their "distant landlord"—the federal government. It revealed Western resentment over the fact that most of the West was run by non-Westerners. [477] Community opposition to the Park Service's road policy exhibited the same frustrations.

By January 1980, the Park Service responded to opposition when it agreed to delay its earlier plan for "phased restrictions" until the three sides could find the best way to handle the problem of commercial vehicles. The Park Service granted Mesa County two 30-day postponements. The county and private individuals used this time to appeal to state congressmen and senators regarding the road issue. [478] Senators William Armstrong and Gary Hart received a barrage of letters protesting the Park Service's decision. Most of the writers were Glade Park residents, many of whom mentioned relatives who helped build Rim Rock Drive. A letter to Senator Hart from Jay and George Van Loan stated that the road controversy was a "moral issue." The Van Loans' grandfather, four of their uncles and their father helped to construct the road, and one uncle perished in the 1933 Half-Tunnel accident. They felt that their family, who had lived on Glade Park for sixty years, had "paid its dues" and should not be "denied the right" to use the road. [479] This was a typical attitude among local residents, especially those who had direct ties to the construction of Rim Rock Drive.

Despite opposition, the restrictions were upheld. As a result, escorts were still necessary, but the Park Service refused to provide that service. [480] In March 1980, the Park Service requested cost estimates for improving the existing Rim Rock Drive and Little Park Road and for the construction of a bypass route at the upper part of the Little Park Road. It also considered the idea of installing a traffic system in the park that would regulate commercial vehicle traffic. [481] In April 1980, when these estimates were available, the most cost-effective alternative was the improvement of Rim Rock Drive to accommodate heavy traffic. Yet, the assessment stated that such improvements would "destroy much of the scenic beauty the Monument was created to preserve." [482] The other alternatives, improving Little Park Road or constructing a two mile bypass from Little Park Road, far exceeded the costs of improving Rim Rock Drive. [483]

Each side of the issue held its own reasons for opposing the Park Service's original alternatives. Mesa County officials argued that the cost of improving Little Park Road ($2.7 million) was too high. They questioned the Park Service's authority over the 4.8 miles of road on the park's east side that led to Glade Park. The county believed that this portion of the road was "part of the county network for the benefit of the community." [484]

Glade Park residents, on the other hand, opposed the alternatives for both practical and emotional reasons. They felt that Park Service restrictions would "interfere with their future options as landowners". [485] Past contributions of labor and money to Rim Rock led Glade Park residents to believe that they were entitled to use the road however they pleased. This attitude was evident in Glade Park residents Doug King and Doug Jones at an August 1980 meeting between the Mesa County Commissioners, Glade Park residents, and Park Service representatives from the Monument. King and Jones felt that it was the Park Service's responsibility to provide the escorts for commercial vehicles since the Park Service was "kicking them off the road" anyway. [486]

In the midst of all of this turmoil, Colorado National Monument's administration underwent another shift when Superintendent Dennis Huffman arrived in 1980. Facing an already "rocky" relationship between local residents and the National Park Service, Huffman launched a campaign to change the community's attitude toward the Monument. Through regular involvement in civic groups and the local media, Huffman worked to inform people of the park's plans and to advertise its role as a resource to the community. [487] Huffman, like Benton, faced the challenge of local resentment. He too often made unpopular decisions, including his continuance of Benton's road policy.

The result of the 1980 meetings was Mesa County's agreement to seek funding for the construction of a bypass from the Little Park Road to the community of Rosedale. The Park Service supported this by agreeing to inform various agencies of the county's need for funding. It also stated that it would create regulations that would "alleviate" problems with 36 C.F.R. 5.6(b)—the federal code governing park operations—until the construction was completed. Finally, the Park Service once again asserted that any commercial vehicles using Rim Rock would have to provide their own escorts. [488]

The issue of escorts raised some important points regarding the Park Service's overall road policy. While Mesa County officials and Glade Park residents believed that it was the Park Service's responsibility to fund whatever facilities were necessary to ensure the safety of its visitors, the Park Service stated that it was not funding that was at issue. Park Service Regional Director Lorraine Mintzmyer made it very clear that it was "inappropriate" for the federal government to subsidize commercial interests, and that Rim Rock Drive was not constructed for that kind of use in the first place. [489] This was true. Despite what many local residents believed, Rim Rock Drive was built to accommodate tourist traffic through the park, not to carry heavy commercial vehicles.

In the meantime, local and state politicians worked to ensure that the Park Service would take responsibility for the road issue. Colorado Senator Bill Armstrong and his aides felt the Park Service was inflexible in its policy toward escorts. [490] A letter to Armstrong from Mesa County Commissioner Rick Enstrom may have prompted the senator's interest in the issue. In the letter, Enstrom stated that Mesa County had pledged $600,000 for the construction of half the bypass agreed to in the July 1980 meeting. He also asked Armstrong's help in funding escorts until the road was completed. Armstrong apparently felt so strongly that he negotiated a deal with Senator Stevens of the Appropriations Committee to include language in the Interior Department Appropriations bill that required the Park Service to fund escorts. [491] This topic lasted an unusually long period of forty-five minutes during the committee meeting. [492] The committee eventually approved an amendment that would require the Park Service to continue escorting large vehicles. Armstrong thought that if this were accepted into the Interior Department's 1981 appropriation bill, the commercial vehicle issue at the Monument might be resolved. The appropriations bill would then go to a House-Senate Conference committee for review. [493] Monument officials, on the other hand, were disappointed by the congressional language as it created "much less flexibility in administering the escort problem." [494]

The year 1981 represented a turning point in the commercial traffic issue. In April, the Monument issued a draft of its commercial vehicle regulations which prohibited all trucks from using any part of Rim Rock Drive except the portion from Grand Junction to Glade Park. Escorts were required, with Park Service escorts costing a fee. The operation of the vehicles was limited to daylight hours only, with Park Service escorts available only between 9:00 A.M. and 3:00 P.M. Vehicles were not allowed to stop on the road unless it was an emergency. Trucking permits were available for ten dollars per vehicle. [495]

Even more disturbing to Glade Park residents, however, was the Park Service's 1981 decision to require all Glade Park residents to sign an affidavit indicating their residence and ownership of land on Glade Park. [496] The increase in population at Glade Park prompted the Park Service to change its past policy of granting free access to residents. According to the 1939 fee policy, residents had been able to simply tell the fee collector that they were going to Glade Park, but it became difficult for the Park Service to keep track of who really did reside in Glade Park and who did not. Park officials noticed that many non-Glade Park residents had begun to abuse the agreement with residents and believed that a new policy needed to be initiated. [497] In May 1981, Superintendent Dennis Huffman announced at a public meeting in Glade Park that the Monument would be issuing free windshield stickers to vehicles owned by Glade Park Residents. [498] No fee was assessed but affidavits were required. In addition, while visitors to Glade Park had once been admitted free, they were now assessed a fee. [499] The new policy only helped to fuel the already volatile road controversy.

Glade Park residents were infuriated by the newest road policy. In a letter from the Piñon Mesa Stockgrowers Association to Superintendent Huffman, Doug Jones stated that the restrictions were "only another step in attempting to deny us complete use of the road." [500] Glade Park frustrations had finally reached a breaking point:

We can no longer accept the continuing changes and apparent harassment. It seems we have had to fight this problem with each new change of local or regional Park administration. It is our decision to submit application to the Mountain States Legal Foundation to represent us in this matter. [501]

Residents of Glade Park did file a complaint with the Mountain States Legal Foundation, asking for legal representation. The Foundation was once headed by the controversial James Watt—Secretary of the Interior at the time—and was a non-profit, public interest firm formed by businessmen to fight "excessive bureaucratic regulation." The ranchers stated that if the Foundation would not handle the case, they were considering filing their own suit against the Park Service. [502]

The conflict over commercial vehicle traffic on Rim Rock Drive was the product of the most significant shifts in the Monument's administration and development from the 1950s to the 1970s. Accustomed to a certain level of cooperation from the Park Service, local residents grew impatient when traffic restrictions appeared to threaten their livelihoods and their freedom. Park officials, on the other hand, responded to commercial traffic according to the needs of the park, including environmental considerations and the safety of increasing amounts of visitors. Eventually, the commercial vehicle issue fueled a far more complex conflict between local residents and the Park Service. Still centered on road use, this conflict ultimately ended in a lawsuit between the Park Service, Mesa County, and a landowner in Glade Park.

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Last Updated: 09-Feb-2005