Controversy mounting over effort to name Sopris peak after John Denver
ASPEN – Misinformation over a request to name the eastern peak of Mount Sopris after John Denver is spreading rapidly, partly because of an extremely vocal minority opposition, the initiative’s organizer said Sunday.
J.P. McDaniel of Littleton, who is spearheading an international petition to ask the U.S. Board of Geographical Names to consider the proposal, said ignorance about Denver and what he stood for is the driving force behind the movement to kill the effort. Some opponents have even prematurely claimed victory, which is odd given that the board has yet to receive the proposal. McDaniel said she plans to mail the petition and related paperwork to the federal board within the next two weeks.
“The stuff people are saying is starting to get a bit ridiculous,” she said. “The proposal hasn’t even been submitted yet. The board hasn’t denied it because they haven’t even received it yet.”
A recent story from the Grand Junction Sentinel quoted the board’s executive secretary as citing the difficulty of naming a natural feature or landmark within a federal wilderness area because it might detract from the wilderness experience. The unnamed twin summits of Mount Sopris stand 12,965 feet above sea level in northwest Pitkin County inside the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Area.
Internet media outlets and national newspaper wire services picked up the story and erroneously inferred in headlines that the proposal had “hit a snag.” Nothing could be further from the truth, McDaniel said, adding that it appears the headlines were a device to sensationalize the story.
“It’s kind of an example of how poor journalism can get repeated,” she said.
McDaniel said she has always known that the initiative would be an uphill battle because of the wilderness area designation. The reason she hasn’t mailed the petition – which now totals more than 3,000 signatures of support – is because she received new advice on how to proceed from that same board secretary. Her next step will be to seek endorsements from local governments and agencies. After she submits the petition, application and other items for board review, there will be a long waiting period of up to a year before a decision.
Opponents also keep spreading the idea that McDaniel wants to “rename” the mountain. That’s another falsehood, as the proposal seeks to name only the east peak after Denver: Mount Sopris would remain Mount Sopris.
McDaniel reiterated that naming the peak would be a fitting tribute to the Aspen-based recording artist, not because of his celebrity but because of his lifelong commitment to environmental and humanitarian causes. Through many of his songs, television specials, media comments and writings, Denver was a committed conservationist and helped bring environmental stewardship into worldwide consciousness.
Critics also claim that Denver was Aspen-centric and had no connection to Sopris or the middle or lower Roaring Fork Valley. Such statements, McDaniel said, ignore the fact that he penned much of his 1972 hit, “Rocky Mountain High,” while camping at Williams Lake, on the southeast side of Mount Sopris. The song is one of two official state songs of Colorado, along with “Where the Columbines Grow.”
The peak also 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. He donated the property to the environmental group he started, the Windstar Foundation, and the federal government later added protections from development.
McDaniel said she was told the board received a few dozen comments over the past week for and against the initiative. She’s also been the victim of some personal attacks and has had to endure a seemingly endless string of negativity concerning Denver’s human frailties – he was twice arrested on suspicion of drunken driving and his musical style, which some consider syrupy.
One online commentator even went so far as to say that Denver “raped a bear” at Williams Lake. Others are trying to turn the issue into an Aspen-versus-the-lower-valley debate.
“This is not a competition,” McDaniel said. “Many of the people who are so strongly opposed to this are ignorant about Denver and things that happened 40 years ago. Some of the comments are coming way out of left field.”
McDaniel said that despite the backlash, she has no plans to give up.
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