A Classic Western Quarrel:
A History of the Road Controversy at Colorado National Monument
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The road controversy in the Colorado National Monument indicates that local conflicts are often the result of years of interaction between adjacent communities and the National Park Service. Former Superintendent Robert Benton observed that the road conflict was inevitable because the administration of the park over the years shifted from "laissez-faire" to restrictive as the park gained more prestige. People accustomed to a certain degree of freedom when using the park's facilities were irritated by Benton's more restrictive stance. [608] Former Superintendent Dennis Huffman perceived the road conflict on a wider scale. He noted that local conflicts often obstruct protective legislation for national parks. Echoing a problem that was evident throughout the Monument's history, Huffman observed that because the superintendent's role is not clear to local residents, friction develops between those communities and the National Park Service, especially in the West. [609]

Surprisingly, the road controversy did not affect Monument operations in any significant manner. Fee collection returned to what it had been prior to the affidavit policy. [610] The road controversy was significant, however, in terms of the interaction between local residents and the Park Service. As this study has indicated, the development of the Monument was unique. Local involvement was prevalent in both the park's establishment and in the construction of Rim Rock Drive. The location of the Monument is also somewhat unique. Because Colorado National Monument, unlike most Western national parks, is surrounded by several well-populated communities, the local element forms an integral part of the park's daily management. The lawsuit revealed that the conflict between local residents and the Park Service was inevitable. No one can dispute the importance of the local role in the creation of the Monument in 1911. The result of this contribution, however, was unrealistic expectations once the park was fully developed. For example, throughout the lawsuit, local residents appeared to have forgotten that they took full advantage of the benefits of the federal funding supporting the road project during the depression era. Local residents supported the park when it was convenient for them, but once the Park Service regulated use of the park, their needs became unreasonable. Why, for instance, should the Park Service be responsible for maintaining a federal road for the county's use? The lawsuit revealed that the nature of the local role in Colorado National Monument's history led to such an arrangement. The lawsuit also revealed that the local population's needs and perceptions of the federal government had changed a great deal between 1911 and 1986. Whereas once the community worked desperately to create the Monument, recent populations often displayed a contempt for Park Service regulations and policy that threatened the future development of the Monument.

Park Service officials, on the other hand, are not without fault. For the first few decades of the Monument's existence, the Park Service played a cursory role in its management and development. So, from the very start, local park promoters were left with the responsibility of managing the park, which included a crude form of law enforcement and development of trails, a road, and other facilities. Once the Park Service did become involved in the Monument, its policies were often shaped by local conditions. The Park Service was responsible for allowing wood-hauling (in Otto's time), stock drives, and commercial traffic on Rim Rock Drive to take place. In addition, it instituted a fee policy based on the good faith of its adjacent neighbors. Unfortunately, Park Service attempts to accommodate local needs with a flexible fee policy backfired.

Conflicts at the Monument during the 1980s and early 1990s continued to reflect elements of the typical western attitude toward the federal government. In 1986, Superintendent Huffman made the unpopular decision to ban the "Tour of the Moon," a stage of the Coors International Bicycle Classic held annually in the Monument. Unruly race fans, and the fact that the park was closed for a half-day were some of the reasons Huffman chose to cancel the race. His explanation indicated that many local residents still exhibited the proprietary attitude toward the park that had existed since Otto's time: "I realize that the park is here in Grand Junction's backyard. But people from Tennessee have just as much claim to it." [611] Deemed one of the most popular events on the Western Slope, the bike race was a natural moneymaker for the Grand Valley at the height of tourist season. Many local residents were enraged by Huffman's decision, but he stood by it. [612]

Another local/Park Service conflict emerged in 1987, when the Park Service solicited the aid of then Congressman Ben Nighthorse Campbell regarding the possible expansion of the Colorado National Monument. [613] Encompassing 32,460 additional acres west of the present park, the expansion was expected to redesignate the Monument into a National Park. [614] In 1989, Congress directed the Park Service to conduct a study of the proposed addition, which included Black Ridge Canyons Wilderness Study Area and other lands west of the park. The study essentially focused on two areas: "natural, cultural, and recreational resources", and "possible boundary and management alternatives." It presented four alternatives: two that proposed expansion of the Monument, and two that envisioned continued Bureau of Land Management control over the area. [615] During the week of January 23, 1989, public meetings were held in Montrose, Grand Junction, Delta and Glade Park to discuss the expansion alternatives. In preparation for the meeting, the Park Service distributed over 1,400 brochures and 200 news releases to both the public and the media. [616]

Even the Park Service's report anticipated opposition when it included a section describing the local attitude toward federal involvement: "Many residents resent control of land or any kind of outside interference. Government participation in projects is generally solicited only when problems cannot be resolved locally." [617] Local opposition was widespread. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) was perhaps the most vociferous in its opposition, since the land in question was under its authority at that time. BLM chief, Delos "Cy" Jamison, promised to fight the expansion, as he felt that the BLM's land-use policy offered more flexibility to visitors. [618] Other groups, such as Ducks Unlimited, the Colorado Bowhunters Association, Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep Society, and the Colorado Wildlife Federation also fought the expansion. [619] Glade Park residents were concerned that if the Park Service acquired the land, recreational use of the area would be too restrictive. [620]

While the BLM and local residents worried that their recreational freedom was threatened, Park Service officials countered that resources, including some archaeological, might not be protected as well under the BLM. [621] Local proponents of the expansion, such as the Concerned Citizens Resource Association and the chamber of commerce, believed that expansion would increase tourism. [622] To date, this issue has not been resolved. Nevertheless, it serves as another instance in which strong local opposition has played a role in Park Service decision-making.

Between 1989 and 1990, a long-standing conflict—that of the stock driveway through the park—finally climaxed. In use long before the park was established, stock drives through portions of the park had been tolerated by the Park Service for years. In November 1989, ranchers Dahl Aubert and Jim Young asked the Park Service if they could use the stock driveway, which had not been in use for a number of years. Originating north of the Glade Park Store, the trail cut across the park and eventually descended into the valley just north of Fruita. When Superintendent Jimmy Taylor researched the issue, he found that a right-of-way was never formally granted for the driveway. As a result, he told the ranchers that he would not authorize their request. Aubert and Young promptly hired a lawyer. [623]

Although Superintendent Taylor's decision was upheld by the Rocky Mountain Regional Office, the ranchers turned to Washington D.C. for guidance; the offices of both Senator Bill Armstrong and U.S. Representative Ben Nighthorse Campbell began working to resolve the matter. Baird Brown, attorney for the ranchers, observed that the stock driveway was simply another example of the Park Service's increasing trend toward "walling themselves off from the community... ." [624] By May 1990, Superintendent Taylor was advised by the Rocky Mountain Regional Office to honor Aubert's and Young's requests for stock trail use. Although Taylor was not told why the change in policy was made, Congressman Campbell's influence was most likely a part of the explanation. Campbell notified one of the ranchers by mail of the revised decision. [625] Pleased with the new policy and with Taylor's willingness to cooperate, the ranchers planned to make a drive only days after the decision was reversed. [626]

Each of these conflicts reveals that local opinion continues to be a factor in the Monument's activities and policy. As two of these examples (the expansion and the stock driveway) indicate, local opposition toward the federal government in general often challenges park policy. Currently, events in other national parks indicate that local conflicts have become increasingly threatening to the future of both the parks and the Park Service in general. A perfect example is the recent battle between various Native American tribes and the National Park Service over the issue of historical treaty rights on certain park lands. Among the more notable of these conflicts: the Blackfeet Tribe of northern Montana filed a lawsuit against the federal government, seeking "all hunting, logging, fishing and spiritual worship rights restored in eastern Glacier National Park, which abuts their reservation." [627] Twelve different tribes have treaties or historic claims in six different western parks. [628] Above and beyond the political correctness of mending the mistakes of the past, when will the needs of the resource be recognized in these situations? If every historical claim to national parks—whether from European-descended. Americans or Native Americans—were honored, how long would it be before there were no more parks?

The parks face other challenges as well. A 1992 congressional underfunding of $2 million dollars forced the nation's 367 national parks, historic sites, battlefields and other areas to cut back. Reduced hours, maintenance, and patrols, hiring freezes, closure of certain areas, and fewer interpretive services represent a sampling of what most parks face. [629] Former superintendent of Rocky Mountain National Park Jim Thompson observed yet another problem confronting the parks today: the visitor. In Thompson's opinion, more park visitors have adopted the attitude that they should be able to do what they want in the parks with few restrictions. [630]

The problems facing the National Park Service today are vast. While the road controversy at Colorado National Monument is only one of many conflicts facing the entire park system, it represents the attitude that seems to prevail regarding national parks. Judge Matsch's assertion that the development of the road controversy was a "classic western quarrel" accurately portrays the evolution of the relationship between the local community and the Park Service and how this relationship eventually climaxed during the lawsuit. The road controversy reflects the cooperation and conflict prevalent throughout the history of Colorado National Monument. It also exemplifies the unique quality of these western Colorado communities and their recent history of resistance toward the federal government.

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Last Updated: 09-Feb-2005