Pinnacles National Monument becomes a national park, bringing good news to the area’s economy and its resident condors
As of this month, the United States has welcomed a new addition to the National Parks Program, and it happens to be in Santa Cruz County’s backyard. President Barack Obama signed a bill on Thursday, Jan. 10 officially recognizing Pinnacles National Monument, located near Soledad, Calif., as a national park.
The bill, which has been in the works since mid-2012, was drafted by Santa Cruz’s congressional representative, Rep. Sam Farr (D-Carmel). According to a statement released by Farr, the upgrade of the park’s status could boost the area’s economy through increased tourism.
“By elevating Pinnacles National Monument to national park status we also elevate the region’s appeal to potential visitors,” Farr said in the statement. “These new tourists will spend their dollars at local businesses and ultimately be the driving force that helps this region … grow and eventually prosper.”
The congressman considers the park’s new status to be a major accomplishment.
“This California gem is one of the rare examples of tectonic plate movement in the United States,” his Jan. 10 statement says. “The Pinnacles is the missing novel in the grand library of the National Park System and today’s vote brings us one step closer to writing that book. With the added status as a National Park, generations of visitors will now travel to the region to experience this unique ecological and geological treasure.”
The 26,000-acre piece of land was formed by the shifting of tectonic plates due to volcanic activity in the area. This left the arid landscape with its signature distinct jutting rock formations and a large series of caves that inspired President Theodore Roosevelt to designate the spot a National Monument in 1908.
The park is home to 49 different species of mammals, hundreds of species of insects and 149 species of birds, including the endangered California condor.
The California condor, which has been on the endangered species list since 1967, has had a sharp decline in population since the start of the 20th Century. The bird was often hunted for sport by settlers, who often blamed it for loss of livestock, and the various Native American tribes who were local to the area, who sometimes hunted the bird for use in making ceremonial attire.
Pinnacles, which is currently home to 32 of the 405 condors left in the world, is also a major release site for the captive-bred birds that are part of the California Condor Recovery Plan, a program started by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service to repopulate and reintegrate the birds back into their natural habitat.
Groups like Friends of California Condors Wild and Free (FCCWF), a Ventura-based nonprofit, work with the Recovery Plan to help restore the bird population. FCCWF maintains and gives tours of refuges, gives lectures about condors, and works closely with release sites in Southern California.
“Although we don’t work directly with the release site at Pinnacles, we definitely see this as a positive decision, for the park and the Condors,” says FCCWF President Martin Fletcher.
The Condor Recovery Plan looks forward to the benefits of Pinnacles’ newly appointed status, including increased revenue from tourism as well as garnering more national attention for the plight of the condor.
When asked about how Pinnacles’ new status will affect the Recovery Plan, Fletcher says, “It can only be a good thing.”
Photo: Rep. Sam Farr (D-Carmel) films some footage at Pinnacles in August 2012 that will serve as a virtual tour of the country’s newest national park. Photo courtesy of Farr’s office.