Monument gains more acreage, but questions persist about park service’s political future
~ Rick Langenberg ~
Move over Woodstock, as your memories for many are still stuck in the mud.
The iconic music festival, dubbed as the peak of the love, peace and rock n’ roll movement of the 1960s, wasn’t the only national event celebrating a 50-year birthday party last week.
Florissant, Colorado had its own 50-year celebration, as the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument hosted a grand five-decade ceremony Saturday, capped by songs and chants and speeches by local and national leaders, scientists, residents and those responsible for saving the Monument from becoming a bulldozing memory or a row of tacky homes.
And yes, contrary opinions still persist over the Florissant Monument’s future, courtesy of the nation’s partisan politics regarding parks. Under new legislation, the Monument’s boundaries have now been extended by nearly 300 acres.
Still, concerns are growing by some of the original Monument legal pioneers that national efforts are underway that could strip these types of resources significantly, so keep up the fight, folks.
But one theme prevailed from the host of long-time residents and dignitaries at last week’s ceremony: The 6,000-acre Monument area, with fossil remnants stemming back 34 million years, belongs to the people and thrives as a community and natural resource unrivaled. And for plans to sell this treasure away, well, ‘over our dead body.’
Surprisingly, the Florissant Fossil Beds faced quite a survival fight in the 1960s, prior to its designation as a monument by Congress and President Richard Nixon. These stories were unveiled in great detail on Saturday, with reports of a group of local women, associated with the Colorado Mineral Society, vowing to lay in front of bulldozers from development teams and the filing of 11th-hour injunctions. The people of Florissant responsible for establishing the monument faced a brutal fight against the clock, which they survived by a mere several hour periods, according to those involved in the original fight.
Victor John Yannacone, Jr., one of the main attorneys involved in efforts to preserve the original Florissant fossil beds area by establishing a national monument, even quipped that he was a New Yorker with no interest whatsoever in fossils. But he admitted that both he and former Colorado governor and conservationist Dick Lamm got lured into the battle by the enthusiasm and passion of the local residents.
“A (National) Monument is for the people”, said Yannacone, comments that drew a standing ovation. He credited the valiant folks of Florissant for saving this natural resource. “The price of progress is for the people who live here,” he added.
But in a somber warning, the attorney maintained that the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument could be under attack again by the current White House administration. He said he had learned that behind the scenes efforts are underway to strip the Monument of 1,000 to 3,000 acres for future development. “You are going to have to do it again,” said Yannacone, in describing the battle against reducing national monuments and in a warning to the citizens of Florissant and Teller County.
The attorney plans to take steps to further protect the Monument by emphasizing its scientific highlights and discussing a defense strategy with leading paleontologists.
No time to panic
However, these views clashed with those of U.S. Congressman Doug Lamborn, a member of the Natural Resources Committee. Lamborn, the keynote speaker, gave a bullish account of the Monument’s future.
Through the help of the county commissioners and many local groups, he said the Monument’s boundaries have expanded by 280 acres. “It was a great collaborative effort,” said Lamborn, who especially lauded the work of Teller County Commissioner Norm Steen. He said the new acreage was part of a unanimous donation that adds new areas to the northwest boundary. Besides offering more recreational opportunities, he said the new area would increase the Monument’s chances of having more fire mitigation.
The congressman denied any valid reports of the Monument shrinking in size. And if these types of efforts do occur, Lamborn said, “I will fight them tooth and nail.”
The congressman, who is a big supporter of President Donald Trump, described himself as a big supporter of national monuments across the country. He touted the Florissant Monument as “a true jewel” for the park system.
However, national reports indicate this system could be under attack. But past reports of the Florissant Monument being affected by this talk has never occurred. The only negative national trend for the Monument occurred during the government shutdown of early 2019, when the park was closed for close to a month.
The ceremony also featured comments by Steen, scientists, Monument officials and a panel of folks with strong family links with the Fossil Beds, such as Jane Sanborn, owner of Sanborn Western Camps, and the Clare and Singer families.
The festivities also included a little music by park rangers and defenders of the Monument and even a colorful rap song.