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July 11, 2011
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Petition under way to name Sopris peak after John Denver

CARBONDALE - A Littleton woman is petitioning the federal government to have the eastern peak of Mount Sopris named after John Denver.

J.P. McDaniel said more than 1,000 signatures have been collected in support of "John Denver Peak," which she said would be a fitting tribute for the popular recording artist who called Aspen home from 1970 until his death in a plane crash in 1997. She hopes to add more names to her petition before sending the request to the U.S. Board of Geographic Names later this month. Sopris is the iconic mountain near Carbondale.

McDaniel, a college professor who recently earned her Ph.D. in ecopsychology, said the initiative is about honoring Denver's environmental legacy, not his celebrity status.

She pointed out that Williams Lake, on the southeast side of Mount Sopris, was the spot where Denver wrote his 1972 hit "Rocky Mountain High," which since has become the one of two official state songs of Colorado. She said the peak is visible from the Windstar Land Conservancy - nearly 1,000 acres of farmland and wilderness area near Old Snowmass that Denver bought for conservation purposes in 1978 and donated to the environmental group he started, the Windstar Foundation.

"I didn't want just any mountain," McDaniel said. "The beauty and magnificence of Mount Sopris overlooks the Windstar Conservancy. It frames it. John Denver protected that land and donated it for public benefit. Naming the peak would honor his love for nature and his involvement with environmental preservation."

She said both Sopris peaks are unnamed. The petition asks only to name the eastern peak - it does not seek to rename the entire mountain.

McDaniel said the effort has been under way for about two years. The initiative has the support of the singer's family, with McDaniel having recently obtained permission in writing from the lawyer for Denver's estate.

It's no easy feat to get a mountain peak named, she said. The U.S. Board of Geographic Names has a lengthy list of criteria that has to be proven, and then will take anywhere from three to six months to make a decision. McDaniel said the fact that Mount Sopris lies within the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Area, a federally protected swath of land within the White River National Forest, will make it even tougher to name the 12,965-foot peak for Denver.

In her petition, McDaniel - who knew Denver well and worked with him on a variety of projects - states that "naming a geographic feature after a significant person is a way of honoring an individual for their contributions to others, with commemorative naming providing a continued remembrance of their important accomplishments." If approved, Denver's name would appear on state and federal maps that also mark the location of Mount Sopris, she said.

The petition adds: "John Denver contributed much to enrich many lives. His timeless music brings enjoyment to people worldwide; his numerous humanitarian projects continue to bring about positive changes; and his passionate environmental and conservation efforts remain significant."

McDaniel said she wants to complete the petition and the packet of information making the case for John Denver Peak by July 20. She hopes to gain federal approval by October, the month that will mark the 14th anniversary of Denver's death. He died at the age of 53 on Oct. 12, 1997, when the experimental aircraft he was piloting crashed into the ocean near Pacific Grove, Calif.

Denver is best known for having recorded a string of hits in the early 1970s, including "Take Me Home, Country Roads," "Rocky Mountain High," "Sunshine on My Shoulders" and "Annie's Song" - songs that propelled him to worldwide fame. As his career waned in the 1980s, he became devoted to a number of humanitarian and environmental causes.

His songs "Aspenglow" and "Starwood in Aspen" are odes to the city he called home for nearly three decades. In 2000, a sanctuary near Rio Grande Park, with large stones inscribed with the lyrics to some of his songs, was dedicated in his name.

Phyllis Holtermann of California wrote McDaniel that she signed the petition and believes the eastern peak of Mount Sopris is the perfect place to honor Denver's legacy: "I have never been to Colorado but, [I] am looking forward to seeing this beautiful land John sang about with such passion. I listen to him sing on my way to work here in the small mountain town I live in, in central California. Someday I will get to see John's special little corner of the world. Thank you again for thinking of such a beautiful tribute that we can all sign for and have a little part in."

For more information about McDaniel's initiative, email jequitap@aol.com or johndenverpeak@aol.com. To sign the petition, visit Denver's official website, www.johndenver.com and click on the related link.

"The more support we get, the more likely it will be named," McDaniel said.

She said that since Mount Sopris is in Pitkin County, she might seek an endorsement from local elected officials sometime over the next few weeks.

asalvail@aspentimes.com


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The Aspen Times Updated Jul 11, 2011 06:37AM Published Jul 11, 2011 02:18AM Copyright 2011 The Aspen Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.