Old-timers rally for Sopris name
CARBONDALE – The thought of naming the east peak of Mount Sopris after John Denver represents a Rocky Mountain low for former Pitkin County commissioner and Carbondale resident Dorothea Farris.
Farris is among a growing number of old-timers in the Roaring Fork Valley speaking out against the proposal. She has lived in the valley since the 1950s.
She said the idea of honoring the late Denver by naming one of the twin peaks of Mount Sopris came up once while she was still in office, roughly three or four years ago. The commissioners’ collective response to a request for support was, “You’ve got to be kidding me,” she said. Farris still feels that way.
Denver revered all things wilderness and made a special effort to teach school kids in Aspen about the outdoors, said Farris, a former teacher and longtime member of the Aspen School District Board of Education. His actions speak for themselves, she said, and she finds it hard to believe that Denver would have wanted part of the iconic mountain renamed in his honor.
“It’s almost insulting to infer that to honor John Denver we have to name a peak after him,” Farris said.
Roaring Fork Valley native Jerry Gerbaz, 73, said a lot of folks from his generation are opposed to the idea.
“Everybody I talk to isn’t happy at all,” Gerbaz said. “I think it’s a bunch of bull. There’s no sense opening a can of worms.”
Gerbaz said so many people revere Mount Sopris because it’s visible from just about everywhere in the Roaring Fork Valley, and it’s awe-inspiring the way it soars up from the valley floor and stands alone. “The first thing I ask visitors is ‘What do you think of Sopris?'” Gerbaz said.
He said his opposition is nothing personal against Denver. He enjoys Denver’s music and respects what he did in the Aspen area. He said it’s unfortunate that Denver’s personal life has been scrutinized since the peak proposal materialized.
Gerbaz said he rarely gets involved in issues, but this one is “pretty important to me.” He said he “wants to get the ball rolling” with opposition to the proposal to name the eastern peak of Mount Sopris in Denver’s honor.
“We have his music. What more do we want?” he asked.
Aspen native Stirling “Buzz” Cooper, who turns 80 next week, also said he opposes naming any part of the peak after Denver: “He was a nice musician. I don’t think that’s the basis for renaming a peak,” he said.
Proponents of the idea said they have collected more than 3,000 signatures in support of naming the eastern peak of Mount Sopris as John Denver Peak. The Mount Sopris name would remain for the mountain overall.
J.P. McDaniel of Littleton is an organizer of the effort. She previously told The Aspen Times the idea is fitting to honor Denver for his commitment to environmental and humanitarian causes.
McDaniel previously said she felt much of the opposition was based on incorrect information that the effort was trying to rename all of Mount Sopris in Denver’s honor.
But opponents said they understand the effort is geared toward just the eastern peak, and they still don’t like it. Midvalley resident David Brown moved to the valley as a youngster 44 years ago and has spent extensive time in the backcountry hunting, exploring and as a member of Mountain Rescue Aspen. He has learned a lot about the names of geographic features in the valley and the stories behind them. A lot of times the names honor early explorers and settlers in the valley, he said. Often the names date back to the 1800s and early 1900s.
That’s the case with Mount Sopris. It’s named after Capt. Richard Sopris, an explorer and prospector who was one of the first settlers in the Denver area. His explorations led to the 1860 discovery of the hot springs in what is now Glenwood Springs. His prospecting party honored him with the naming of Sopris Peak on that same outing.
Sopris went on to become mayor of Denver, among his many accomplishments.
Brown said the name of a peak that honors an early explorer shouldn’t be altered in any way to honor a popular singer from 30 years ago.
“I don’t think it should be changed at this late point in the game,” he said. “Among everyone I’ve talked to, it looks like a big majority are opposed.”
McDaniel intends to submit her petition to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names eventually, along with an application and other supporting materials. She is going to seek support from elected officials from local governments, which could prove a tough sell.
McDaniel has previously acknowledged the concept also faces an uphill battle because the U.S. Board on Geographical Names is reluctant to name natural features in what have become designated wilderness areas. The Wilderness Act was approved in 1964. Since then millions of acres of public lands have received the protection. Mount Sopris is in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness.
Farris doesn’t want to take any chances that the feds won’t accept the proposal. She is also urging people opposed to the John Denver Peak idea to send letters to the board.
Friend and foes of the idea can write the board at: U.S. Board on Geographic Names, U.S. Geological Survey, 12201 Sunrise Valley Dr. MS 523, Reston, VA 20192-0523. The email address is BGNEXEC@usgs.gov.
Basalt resident Jim Paussa offered a comprise to the John Denver flap.
“No Name Pass, up Snowmass Creek, has been sitting there all this time without a name,” Paussa said. “Since Sopris already has a name, they could name change No Name to John Denver. That way everyone can get along.”
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