Pinnacles National Monument could become 59th national park

Pinnacles National Monument in central California would become the 59th U.S. national park under a bill that cleared the House on Tuesday with bipartisan support.

Pinnacles National Monument in central California would become the 59th U.S. national park under a bill that cleared the House on Tuesday with bipartisan support.

The bill creating Pinnacles National Park is aimed at raising the national profile of the site, named a monument by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1908.

The bill now goes to the Senate.

The 26,000-acre site, with its towering rock formations, has played a critical role in the recovery of the California condor and has been called a volcanic wonderland and a climber’s paradise.

"Pinnacles is a rare American landscape that will be even more significant as a national park, attracting new visitors to experience its oak savannas, grasslands, dramatic volcanic spires and caves," said Paul Spitler, director of wilderness policy at the Wilderness Society.

If approved by the Senate and signed into law by President Obama, the bill would make Pinnacles -- already a unit of the National Park Service -- the first new national park since Great Sand Dunes National Monument in Colorado was elevated to a national park in 2004.

The Pinnacles bill moved through the House after its chief sponsor, Rep. Sam Farr (D-Carmel), lined up a Republican, Rep. Jeff Denham of Turlock, as a cosponsor and agreed to GOP demands to drop a proposed nearly 3,000-acre expansion of wilderness areas within the new park.

Farr said the new designation would more accurately define "this jewel of Central California and all it has to offer." He told colleagues on the House floor Tuesday that the change also could increase tourism and boost the economy of the area.

The designation has the support of California Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein.

But Farr, who has spent a decade seeking the designation, expressed concern that the end of the congressional session is approaching. "Our biggest enemy is time," he said.

Filmmakers Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan, who produced the PBS documentary "The National Parks: America's Best Idea," wrote in a letter of support to lawmakers that elevating a monument to a national park "alters its place in the American imagination."

"The Grand Canyon was just as wide and deep when it was a national monument as it is now as a national park, but the change enhanced its status in the eyes of the public -- and in doing so increased its lure to visitors from our nation and abroad," they wrote. "So, too, a Pinnacles National Park, simply by its new designation, would attract and demand greater attention to the remarkable treasures the monument has to offer."

The 397 units of the National Park Service range from battlefields to historic sites. California currently has eight of the 58 national parks.