No John Denver peak – for now |

No John Denver peak – for now

Andre Salvail
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado

ASPEN – Those who were worried about the possibility of one of Mount Sopris’ peaks being named after John Denver no longer need to fret.

That’s because the organizer of the initiative, J.P. McDaniel, of Littleton, apparently never sent her petition and application to the U.S. Board of Geographic Names, according to the federal entity’s administrator.

“I talked to her last year and haven’t heard from her since,” said Lou Yost, the board’s executive secretary. “The last time I talked with her, she said she was working on it and that she didn’t realized it was going to cause such a ruckus. She left the impression that we were going to hear from her in the near future.”

McDaniel has not returned messages left on her cellphone by The Aspen Times this week. In July 2011, she was preparing to send an application to the board, along with nearly 3,000 names on a petition in support of naming the eastern, unnamed peak after Denver. In fact, she told the Times in one interview that the packet would be sent by the first week of August 2011.

Many who signed the petition were from outside the area – and across the nation and world. But in the Roaring Fork Valley, her intentions caught a lot of flak from people who were adamantly opposed to Denver’s name being associated with one of the peaks. Some of the comments, she said, were rabid and cruel.

McDaniel stressed then that she was seeking the honor for 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 raise worldwide consciousness of environmental stewardship.

There are other solid reasons why Sopris – the iconic mountain a few miles from Carbondale in northwest Pitkin County – is the appropriate mountain for Denver’s name, McDaniel said. Denver 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 Colorado’s two official state songs.

She said 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 local environmental group he co-founded, the Windstar Foundation, and it later gained federal protection from development.

Many of those who opposed her efforts cited his penchant for writing syrupy ballads and his problems with alcohol abuse. But others, such as former Pitkin County commissioner and school board member Dorothea Farris, have good memories of Denver – they just didn’t feel that his name was needed on a Sopris peak.

“Perhaps she gave some thought to some of the feelings that many people had,” Farris said. “It was sort of a shock: ‘You want to rename my Mount Sopris?'”

She said Denver already is being honored with the city of Aspen’s John Denver Sanctuary at Rio Grande Park and through tribute concerts each fall at the Wheeler Opera House.

“There are many opportunities in the Aspen and Snowmass area to say, ‘We have John Denver to thank for this.’ I’m not convinced that John Denver, knowing his personality and listening to his songs when he was here, needs a mountain named for him,” Farris said.

Farris met Denver a few times when she was an Aspen school board member.

“I think he was proud of the messages that he sent. He worked with the school kids here to try to get them to know and understand the world and care about it. All the things he did were so much greater than a mountain peak that isn’t named,” she said.

Denver was 53 when the experimental plane he was flying crashed into the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California in October 1997. He 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” – compositions that propelled him to worldwide fame.

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

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