It’s hard not to feel sorry for our hapless congressman, Doug Lamborn.
Abandoning his usual agenda (God, guns and Bush: good — abortion, gays and taxes: bad), Lamborn seized on what he must have thought would have been a feel-good item: make Pikes Peak a National Monument!
But you would have thought that he had hired O.J. Simpson as his bodyguard or championed early release for Charles Manson, such was the uproar.
Colorado Springs Utilities viewed the whole proposition with undisguised fear and loathing. After all, utilities mavens pointed out, we’ve got reservoirs up there and a watershed to manage, and we don’t want any feds telling us what to do in our own back yard, do we?
And, as Erin Emery reported in the Denver Post, Brent Botts, the district ranger for the Pike National Forest, also expressed skepticism. “It’s managed as a quasi-national park as it is,” Emery reported Botts as saying. “It has the visitor’s center at the top, it’s got the highway. I don’t see anything changing since we have this long-term contract with the City of Colorado Springs.”
Vice Mayor Larry Small joined the chorus of naysayers. “The city should have been consulted before this effort began,” he said. “We have significant assets up there, and it’s our water system.”
And to add insult to injury, even editorial writers piled on.
“… But if the point of the exercise is attracting congressional pork, forget it. Scrounging for pork isn’t kosher, even when we locals potentially stand to benefit,” sniffed the Gazette’s Sean Paige.
And, in a rare agreement with its conservative Colorado Springs counterpart, the impeccably liberal Denver Post chimed in: “A national monument is a protected area, similar to a national park. But Pikes Peak is already protected. There is no looming threat, and designating it a monument doesn’t fit with the original intent of the designation. … To be sure, the act has been interpreted broadly. Last year, President Bush used it to protect 140,000 square miles of the Pacific. But if this is a straight-up effort to renovate a 42-year-old building atop Pikes Peak, it seems there should be a more appropriate way of securing funding for such a project.”
So, properly chastised, Lamborn will probably slink back to Washington and drop the whole project. And that’s too bad, because it’s a pretty good idea.
Contrary to assertions by the Post and Botts, the Peak is not managed as a quasi-national park, and it’s not “already protected.” It might be America’s Mountain, but it has suffered from 130 years of neglect, exploitation and careless management.
Thanks to the combined fecklessness of the Forest Service and the city, it has historically been managed as a once-a-year racetrack, an over-hyped, under-maintained tourist destination and an employment source for city workers.
Thanks to the efforts of a few concerned residents who had the temerity to sue the city and force changes, we’ve begun the long process of repairing the damage and protecting the mountain.
Five hundred thousand people visit Pikes Peak every year. For most, it will be their only trip to the summit of a 14’er. We owe it to them, and to ourselves, to make it a rich, uplifting experience.
To accomplish this will be neither easy nor cheap. To pave the highway, remedy a century’s worth of environmental degradation and build a new summit house might cost tens of millions of dollars, and local resources are probably inadequate for such a task.
Absent some soft-hearted philanthropist who’d like to write us a check for $25 million or so, that leaves the feds. And that means depending on those oh-so-scorned congressional “earmarks,” the supposedly corrupt means by which members of congress bring home the bacon to their districts.
Formerly, there was no way to find out who sponsored a particular earmark or who might benefit from it. It was a system that might have been designed for corruption — and, as news reports have made clear, it was widely abused.
But there have been some changes. The system, while not perfect, is far more open and transparent than before.
Earmarks might once have funded bridges to nowhere in Alaska, rain forests in Iowa, the Teapot Museum in Sparta, N.C., and dozens of similarly bizarre projects.
But nowadays earmarks also pay for worthwhile projects such as AIDS education in San Francisco or facilities and equipment for the National Center for Nursing Education at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley.
The objections to the creation of a Pikes Peak National Monument seem to be petty, parochial, “dog in the manger” arguments. Utilities, the city and the Forest Service run things now — the last thing they want is to be subject to the kind of cold-eyed national scrutiny that such designation might bring.
Remember that saying, variously attributed to Albert Einstein and Benjamin Franklin? “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results.”
Small town pols and petty bureaucrats have run things on the mountain for decades, and the mountain’s a mess. It’s time for a change.
You go, congressman!
And if you succeed, we’ll forget all about the dog fighting vote …
John Hazlehurst can be reached at John.Hazlehurst@csbj.com or 227-5204.