Signatures favoring ‘John Denver Peak’ ready to mail
August 2, 2011
ASPEN – The organizer of the effort to name the eastern peak of Mount Sopris after the late John Denver said she plans to send a petition and related application documents to the U.S. Board of Geographical Names Tuesday.
J.P. McDaniel of Littleton, who knew Denver personally, said the initiative has garnered the support of more than 2,300 people online. Another 500 people have lent their signatures to a hard-copy petition, she said. The signatures of support for her project more than doubled in the days after a story appeared in the July 11 issue of The Aspen Times. Media interest has mushroomed as well, she said.
McDaniel stressed that she’s 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.
Though McDaniel’s cause enjoys great support, opponents have surfaced. Most of them, she said, mistakenly believe she’s trying to rename the entire mountain. For instance, the homepage of the website for the Mount Sopris Historical Society states, “What? Change the name of Mt. Sopris to John Denver Mountain? No way!” But her petition to the federal board only seeks to attach Denver’s name to the eastern peak of Sopris. It would be listed on federal maps and other official charts, along with the name Mount Sopris.
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“There were only one or two people who signed the petition who were not in favor, and then there were a few really crude comments, and we took those off the list,” McDaniel said. The petition, like most that seek support for a cause, is not designed to include people who are against the effort, she said.
Someone using the name Beatrice S. Hat has set up a “Don’t Name Mt. Sopris after John Denver,” Facebook page, attracting 144 members. (Britain’s Princess Beatrice of York recently wore an unusual hat to the royal wedding of Prince William, sparking a fashion controversy.) Comments on the site range in tone, from cheeky to serious. One posting even says, “J.D. rocks!”
A posting by a Carbondale native named Kyle Schumacher, who now lives in Phoenix, states: “This stresses me out. I don’t want to come home to John Denver Valley. I met him a few times at the Windstar Foundation and I honestly think he would be honored at the gesture but would politely decline. He loved the Rockies for what they are and not what a piece of paper could make them.”
Elsewhere on the Internet, other online comments have taken aim at Denver’s alcohol problems, including two arrests for driving under the influence in the early 1990s. Others have used the issue to characterize his music as saccharine, or containing thinly veiled drug references, such as the lyrics near the end of “Rocky Mountain High” (“Friends around the campfire/everybody’s high”).
But the overwhelming majority of comments about honoring Denver’s legacy by naming the eastern Sopris peak have been positive, McDaniel said. The critics are either unaware of his record of environmentalism or they simply ignore it, she said.
“The ones who are opposed to naming the peak really don’t have a clue about what John was about,” McDaniel said. “They will say things like, ‘He was born in New Jersey,’ or that he was ‘a stringy-haired alcoholic liberal Democrat.’
“Other comments think we are trying to rename the mountain – not so,” she said. “Some people aren’t listening. It’s like they have their mind made up before thinking about it.”
An Aspen Times online poll shows 429 people (74 percent) against the initiative and 151 (26 percent) in favor of it. A similar poll by Carbondale radio station KDNK has a tally of 72 opposed, 10 who support it and 15 who don’t care; but neither poll is scientific.
McDaniel said she attended a concert of John Denver songs when she visited Aspen last weekend. There she met many supporters: “I think a lot of people still appreciate John Denver,” she said.
She hopes the U.S. Board of Geographical Names won’t take too long to decide after receiving the petition packet. She said he would like to get an answer before Aspen’s annual October celebration of Denver’s life and music.
Denver was 53 on Oct. 12, 1997, when the experimental aircraft he was piloting crashed into the ocean near Pacific Grove, Calif. 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, a sanctuary near Rio Grande Park, with large stones inscribed with the lyrics to some of his songs, was dedicated in his name.