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Mount Evans is renamed Mount Blue Sky after federal naming board vote

Visitors pass the sign on the summit of Mount Evans in 2016. David Zalubowski/The Associated Press
The U.S. Geological Survey’s Board on Geographic Names voted Friday to approve Mount Blue Sky as the replacement for Mount Evans

Welcome to Colorado, Mount Blue Sky.

The federal board in charge of naming geographic places on public land voted Friday to approve Mount Blue Sky as a replacement name for Mount Evans, effective immediately.

After years of negotiations involving dozens of meetings with hundreds of residents, Native Americans and local and state elected leaders, the Evans name will be stripped from the 14,265-foot peak that stands sentinel over metro Denver.

The Friday vote by the U.S. Board on Geographic Names — part of the U.S. Geological Survey — was the final step in the process. There are several options for new names the board was set to discuss but the board voted 15-1, with three members abstaining, to approve Mount Blue Sky.

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis in March asked the federal naming board to go with Mount Blue Sky, which was recommended after two years of review by the Polis-created Colorado Geographic Naming Advisory Board.

The Clear Creek County peak was originally named to honor John Evans, who was Colorado’s territorial governor from 1862 to 1865. He was forced out of office for his role in the 1864 massacre of more than 230 Cheyenne and Arapaho people at Sand Creek, many of them women, children and elders.

Native American tribal leaders joined residents, advocates and local government officials at several meetings of the state naming board, urging the change to Mount Blue Sky.

Support for the shift to Blue Sky was not unanimous, though. Some descendants of Evans have spoken in support of the influential figure in Colorado history. And more recently, the Northern Cheyenne Tribe in Montana expressed concern with the name “Blue Sky.” In a letter sent in March to the Board on Geographic Names, the Northern Cheyenne Tribe said “Blue Sky” is the name of a sacred ceremony that is not open to the public and the name “would be considered exploitation.”

“Our tribe wishes to discourage its use as it diminishes cultural values, trivializes, and encourages disrespect to the Cheyenne ceremonies,” said a resolution issued by the Northern Cheyenne tribal leaders who proposed naming the peak “Mount Cheyenne Arapaho.”

Board on Geographic Names member Andy Flora voted against naming the peak after a sacred ceremony.

“It is something that will create a lot more division and concern among the various parties involved,” he said.

Almost nine years ago, then-Gov. John Hickenlooper issued a formal apology from the state to the descendants of the massacre. In August 2019 Polis held a ceremony at the state Capitol rescinding Evans’ proclamations that led to the massacre, promising “an ongoing process to amend the sins of the past.”

Snow covers the Mount Evans Scenic Byway on May 16 near Idaho Springs. The highest paved road in North America reaches to 14,130 feet above sea level at the summit of Mount Evans. Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun

The federal naming board’s report on the name change includes references to two 2014 research papers issued by Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, and the University of Denver, two universities that Evans helped create. The yearlong research projects concluded there was “no known evidence” that Evans knew about the massacre in advance, but he was “one of several individuals who, in serving a flawed and poorly implemented federal Indian policy, helped create a situation that made the Sand Creek Massacre possible.”

The Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes applauded the name change.

“It is a huge step, not only for the Cheyenne and Arapaho people, but also for the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Southern Ute Tribe, Northern Arapaho Tribe, Northern Cheyenne Tribe, and other allies who worked diligently to begin the healing process, bringing honor to a monumental and majestic mountain,” Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes Governor Reggie Wassana said in a statement.

The tribes urged Congress to now change the name of the Mount Evans Wilderness Area below the peak to the “Mount Blue Sky Wilderness Area.”

Jim Ramey, the Colorado state director of The Wilderness Society, thanked the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes for leading the effort to the name change. In a statement, Ramey urged Congress to now “act swiftly” to change the name of the Mount Evans Wilderness below the peak, “so we can all begin to learn, heal and grow together.”

The federal board also unanimously rejected a proposal from a property owner to apply the name Cimarron Peak to an unnamed 7,655-foot peak in Jefferson County. The Colorado naming advisory board opposed that plan, with members noting that the word “cimarron” was used to describe African people who escaped Spanish enslavement in the 1500s in Mexico, the Caribbean and Central America.

The federal board also unanimously rejected a plan to change Calkins Lake in Longmont to Union Reservoir. The city uses the name Calkins and the USGS has labeled the impoundment Calkins Lake since 1904. The state naming board also opposed this proposed name change.