Pinnacles’ New Heights
Promotion to national park status would draw more tourist dollars.
Thursday, September 2, 2010
Perhaps it’s a matter of not seeing the mountains for the spires, or the rock canyons for the caves.
Rep. Sam Farr (D-Carmel) uses a more familiar phrase to describe his federal bill that would designate Pinnacles, now a national monument, as a national park.
“So often we can’t see the forest for the trees,” Farr says. “We live in a beautiful area, and we just accept the way things are and we don’t question them.”
Farr’s Pinnacles National Park Act, HR 3444, has been heard in the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands. Farr says the subcommittee chairman is willing to move the bill forward to a vote on the House floor.
But then there’s the issue of the U.S. Senate, which Farr calls “dysfunctional.”
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) recently introduced a companion bill that would boost Pinnacles’ officially designated wilderness area from 16,000 acres to 19,000. It would also rename it Hain Wilderness, for Schuyler Hain, the conservationist who helped make Pinnacles a national monument.
As of yet, the proposed legislation doesn’t have a date on the floor of either legislative house.
“It’s not a matter of deal-making,” Farr says. “There’s a lot of support for this bill. It’s not controversial. It’s a matter of a calendar scheduling more than anything else.”
Congress is in recess until mid-September, then will take another break in mid-October. “So we have about 16 days of session left,” Farr says. “Will [Pinnacles] be our next national park? It’s a race against the legislative calendar, and time is running out. But there’s still a chance.”
The 26,000-acre area of volcanic rock formations rise out of the Gabilan Mountains, attracting some 165,000 visitors per year to see dramatic spires rising to the sky, condor nests, bat caves and bountiful spring wildflowers.
“If it becomes a national park, a lot of people are going to want to come down here to look at this national beauty we’ve seen for 130 years,” Pinnacles Superintendent Eric Brunnemann says. “The magic is not just the look; it’s the listen. You can hear bees, the wind and tumbling leaves and the plants moving – and then you can smell the trees, the juniper. It just takes you away.”
More visitors to the southeast Monterey County treasure, Farr notes, also means more tourist money. “Frankly, around here, we sell scenery – that’s what the Monterey Bay area does,” he says. “We need to exploit that for economic reasons.”
The Monterey County Convention and Visitors Bureau can’t put a dollar amount on the potential influx of visitors, but its representatives like the idea, too.
“We think it’s a fantastic idea,” MCCVB spokeswoman Koleen Hamblin says. “It would put Pinnacles on par with parks like Yosemite, which will obviously increase visibility, which will obviously increase tourism. If you look at other natural assets in Monterey County such as Point Lobos, Big Sur and the Monterey Bay Sanctuary, Pinnacles is another great asset to the lineup.”
In other words, it’s a matter of seeing the spires and the (giant redwood) trees.