Naming peak would be fitting tribute
July 15, 2011
It’s difficult to understand why some people are irked over an effort to name the eastern peak of Mount Sopris after John Denver, arguably the most famous adopted son of Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley.
Not that the peak should be named after the man because of his celebrity. John Denver was a tireless supporter of environmental causes; for evidence, look at the lengthy list of achievements by a Snowmass-based nonprofit group, The Windstar Foundation (www.wstar.org), which the singer and popular music icon co-founded in 1976. Through its many programs and projects, for four decades, the foundation has sought “to educate, inspire and empower children and adults to create responsible choices through community and global action for a healthy and sustainable environment.” That mission statement was essentially Denver’s vision.
Littleton resident J.P. McDaniel, who is spearheading the initiative to get the U.S. Board of Geographical Names to honor Denver’s legacy by naming the peak after him, offers several reasons why it’s a good idea, Windstar’s work among them. Denver was a constant promoter of conservation, and backed up the high-profile talk with the 1978 purchase of nearly 1,000 acres of wilderness and farmland near Old Snowmass. In 1996, a year before his death, the property was established as the Windstar Land Conservancy, and an agreement with Pitkin County and the National Wildlife Federation will protect it from development in perpetuity.
Of course, Denver’s environmental legacy doesn’t begin and end with The Windstar Foundation. McDaniel estimates that more than one-third of Denver’s song catalogue is in some way related to the environment and conservation. One of his biggest hits, 1972’s “Rocky Mountain High,” partly written in shadow of Sopris, is one of many compositions pointing to his feelings for the earth: “Why they try to tear the mountains down/To bring in a couple more/More people, more scars upon the land …”
Denver appears to fit the board’s criteria: The landmark in question (the eastern peak of Sopris) must be previously unnamed; it cannot be named after a living person; the name should be short and easily pronounced. The naming must be in the public interest, honoring a person for historical or commemorative reasons. The person must have an outstanding national and international reputation, as well as a direct and long-term association with the featured landmark. The list goes on.
The detractors are definitely in the minority. Since last Monday’s Aspen Times article about McDaniel’s quest, support for the petition to name the peak has more than doubled, with the list topping 2,000 names. Only a handful of the signatures include negative comments, more than likely sparked by distaste for Denver’s music, which some view as overbearingly saccharin. Or maybe they didn’t like his stringy blond hair, granny glasses and youthful exuberance. Petty.
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More than 99 percent of the signers favor the effort: Perhaps Laurie Vines put it best when she wrote, “John Denver helped to enlighten and educate a generation on the joy of the outdoors and protecting our environment. His influence lives on, not only through his music, but through the values he communicated. He had a tremendous impact on my life.”
Let’s be clear: McDaniel’s petition does not seek to rename Mount Sopris. It merely seeks to pay tribute to a man whose legacy already is inextricably linked to the mountains surrounding the Roaring Fork Valley. Maps will still bear the name Mount Sopris, but if the petition is successful, some will refer to the landmark’s eastern peak as John Denver Peak.
We see no harm in it.