Move to name peak for singer John Denver hits snag
August 8, 2011
DENVER – Thousands of Coloradans have signed a petition to honor environmentalist and “Rocky Mountain High” singer John Denver by naming a peak after him in the central Rockies close to where Denver penned the song.
But the U.S. Board on Geographic Names said federal policy is to avoid adding names to peaks in federal wilderness areas, and Mount Sopris, a majestic volcanic summit west of Aspen, is in one.
Others prefer a different place to recognize the revered singer, whose “Rocky Mountain High” is an official Colorado state song.
And still others oppose the idea because they just don’t like the music of Denver, who was killed in a California plane crash in 1997.
Littleton resident J.P. McDaniel said she has thousands of signatures supporting her idea to name the east peak of the 12,965-foot mountain after Denver. She’s sending application documents to the geographic names board, which is based in Reston, Va. A review process could take up to a year.
“This is to bring awareness of a person who really made a difference and gave a lot of his life to environmental issues. I think he’d be OK with it,” McDaniel told The Associated Press on Monday.
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McDaniel said she chose the mountain’s east peak because Denver wrote “Rocky Mountain High” at Williams Lake, on the east side of Mount Sopris, which was named after Richard Sopris, an early Denver mayor who led a prospecting expedition nearby.
It’s also in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Area, which poses a problem. The geographic board’s executive secretary, Lou Yost, said that under the board’s interpretation of the Wilderness Act of 1964, applying new names to features in wilderness areas detracts from the wilderness experience.
Exceptions can be made for safety or educational reasons, he added.
But McDaniel said Congress set a precedent by renaming South Hunter Peak in Alaska’s Denali National Park and Preserve after the late Sen. Ted Stevens, who was killed last year in a plane crash.
Not everyone is on board with the plan.
Carol Kurt of the Colorado Mountain Club in Aspen, about 20 miles east of Mount Sopris, said she has climbed the mountain eight times.
“I actually like it as Mount Sopris,” Kurt said. Upon further reflection, she said, it wouldn’t hurt to name one of the twin peaks after Denver.
McDaniel, who said she met Denver in the 1980s, said some comments she has received have been hurtful.
“One person said (Denver) was just a human muppet, while others said his music was too syrupy. There are only a few opponents, but they’re really loud,” she said.