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Cortez could benefit with focus on parks’ gateway cities

Mayor Karen Sheek read a proclamation endorsing the need to find a better funding model for national parks at the Cortez City Council meeting on Sept. 27.

A national conservation group is lobbying lawmakers to find a sustainable funding solution for America’s national parks, and Southwest Colorado is an important area that will benefit from the effort.

The National Parks Conservation Association met with regional and local stakeholders, including representatives from Mesa Verde National Park and Crow Canyon Archaeological Center, in Cortez this week to discuss park advocacy efforts.

Cortez City Council members recently endorsed the need for a better funding method for the park service. The park service faces a $12 billion backlog of infrastructure projects, and Mesa Verde officials are considering raising park entrance fees to increase revenue for the park’s list of needs.

Founded in 1919, NPCA is a non-partisan park advocacy group based in Washington, D.C. With regional representation, the group isn’t an outsider to the Western Slope, said NPCA Four Corners Energy Program Manager Jerry Otero.

“We’re building relationships and being part of the community,” said Otero, who is based in Grand Junction.

Though Mesa Verde is the only National Park in the area, one NPCA goal is finding ways the area’s other interests can work together and be compatible with the park, Otero said.

NPCA Colorado Program Manager Vanessa Mazal said the group is investing in national park gateway communities, such as Cortez, especially in Colorado. Cortez relies heavily on the economic impact of visitors to Mesa Verde, and it’s important to have attractive gateway communities as well as attractive parks, she said.

“You need a symbiotic relationship between parks and communities,” Mazal said.

In addition to emphasizing gateway communities, the NPCA provides a voice for national parks to congressional ears on issues such as funding, Mazal said. The group also has been active on other public lands issues, including helping formulate the Bureau of Land Management’s master lease plan, which recently was implemented in Southwest Colorado.

Mazal and Otero encouraged people to get in touch with the NPCA if they are interested in those issues. The group is looking to collect personal stories from people who have been impacted by national parks, Mazal said.

Increasing numbers of visitors to national parks in recent years has translated to an increased economic impact for Cortez and other gateway cities, Mazal said. The NPCA wants to ensure that trend continues upward, she said.

“We want to look toward the future and make sure national parks are part of a viable future in Montezuma County,” Mazal said.

For more information, visit www.npca.org.

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