Before throwing caution to the wind and jumping on the “let’s create a new national park bandwagon,” a more thorough investigation of the Craters of the Moon proposal is needed.
The recent proposal to send a state memorandum to Congress that would change the name of Craters of the Moon National Monument to National Park was supported by the Butte County commissioners and State Rep. Merrill Beyeler, R-Leadore. There is local support for the change and we believe that is important.
However, the proposal failed after concerns about it were raised by several voices, including the Idaho Farm Bureau. We would like to stress that we aren’t here to claim responsibility for killing the idea and we think it should be given time for thorough vetting. So let’s ask the hard questions first and get the answers out in front of all of the stakeholders. If it still seems like a good idea after that then let’s move forward with it.
Discussion circulating through the Idaho Statehouse was the proposed change was not more than changing the name on the sign. The Idaho Statesman editorial page says it’s a great idea because Idaho doesn’t have a national park and it will only cost about $10,000 to change the signs.
We are curious whether swapping the word “Monument” for the word “Park” on a sign really changes anything. According to National Park Service data, Craters of the Moon is a “lava flow with scattered islands of cinder cones and sage brush,” that is visited by about 200,000 people per year. But Craters of the Moon is not unlike the thousands of acres that surround it. The entire Great Rift region from Blackfoot to Arco to Shoshone to Acequia and back along the west side of American Falls Reservoir is as fabulous of a desert as exists anywhere in the world. It’s got back roads and caves and old homesteads and wildlife and tons of outdoor recreation opportunities. It’s “all that” to anyone who finds solitude in a desert environment.
In all honesty, Craters of the Moon is just a lava flow near the north end of this fabulous desert. Some people would even call it a rock pile, but that doesn’t sound “touristy.”
The point we are trying to get at here is does Craters rise to the level of national park? If you’ve just traveled through Yosemite, Glacier or Yellowstone and you arrived at Craters would it be a letdown? Should we care? Is it enough to just change the name on the sign?
Would this change stimulate the local economy? Liberal think tank organizations are fond of publishing studies that allege the economic benefits of national monuments, parks and wilderness areas. One that was released to support a monument in the Boulder-White Clouds region last year claimed more middle-class telecommuters—people who work from home online—would move to central Idaho if a monument was created, or that tourism dollars would shore up the economy. Yet, the facts don’t support those claims. We’ve had a monument in central Idaho since 1924 when President Calvin Coolidge established Craters of the Moon. There is also very little to indicate that Craters is supporting tourism in the region.
In addition, inviting the federal government to make management changes at Craters also raises red flags. One thing we know for certain is that federal agencies and regulations go together like watermelon and sticky fingers. If we invite a name change, who’s to say the Park Service won’t increase the size of the monument or reduce the area available for off-road vehicles, grazing, hunting or other uses that are currently allowed?
We don’t want to throw cold water on this proposal. It would be great if Craters could become an important tourist destination; there’s just not much evidence that it will—no matter what it says on the sign.
Frank Priestley is the president of the Idaho Farm Bureau.