Pinnacles National Monument Proposed to be a National Park -- Again

Photo by Zach Behrens/KCET

Soledad, California might be known as the backdrop for John Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men," but the small and relatively sleepy town along the 101 Freeway in Central California might soon be seeing a boost in its economy. That is if Senator Barbara Boxer gets a bill she reintroduced Wednesday approved.

Several windy miles from Soledad is the western entrance to Pinnacles National Monument, where Boxer hopes to see a minor, but significant name change: Pinnacles National Park.

The monument was designated by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1908 and gets its name from the rock spires and crags that rise out of the area's rolling hills. It's famously known for its popularity with endangered California condors.

National Monuments can be designated by presidents without the approval of congress while National Parks need the congressional nod. Monuments are also intended to protect a single unique resource, as opposed to parks, which are made to protect a plethora of them.

"This area is much more than rock formations," said Representative Sam Farr when he originally introduced legislation in 2009. "It's a huge swatch of land with historical significance for the state, it provides an important refuge for the California condor and it has great potential for tourism revenue."

That latter point -- tourism -- is key to this name change. A National Park, after all, has immediate brand recognition. In fact, if the bill is passed, the park with its 30 miles of hiking trails will not gain even an acre (although it has since 1908 when it was 2,060 acres), but the wilderness areas within the park -- the highest protection U.S. land can receive -- will increase by close to 3,000 acres for a total of 16,000.

"These small but significant additions to the wilderness, in what we hope will soon become Pinnacles National Park, will protect federal lands that are important for recreation, solitude, and wildlife," said Gordon Johnson from the California Wilderness Project. "The recognition of Pinnacles as a park will help highlight this national gem."

The previous legislation timed out during the last session of congress, but the bill did see some resistance from the National Park Service on what defines a monument and a park. "Under longstanding practice, the term 'national park' has generally been reserved for units that contain a variety of resources and encompasses large land or water areas to help provide adequate protection of the resources," an official said. "Pinnacles National Monument does not include the full range of resources usually found in national parks."

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