Last year, Littleton resident J.P. McDaniel's push to name the east peak of Mount Sopris after singer John Denver made national headlines -- but a story last week implied that the campaign might have reached its expiration date. Not so, says McDaniel, who stresses that her slow and steady approach is intended to boost the odds that her efforts, and those of approximately 3,000 fans who've signed a petition supporting the designation, are successful.
"I'm really sorry this story came out without people talking to me," says McDaniel about an Aspen Times article published Friday. The report noted that she had not yet submitted her petition and application to the U.S. Board of Geographic Names, the government body in charge of such matters, even though its executive secretary, Lou Yost, expected it last summer.
Her drive "is still going," she adds. "It's still underway."
From the beginning, McDaniel stressed that the naming of the peak after Denver was meant as a hat-tip to Denver's environmentalism. She notes that he wrote "Rocky Mountain High," one of Colorado's official state songs, at Williams Lake, near Mount Sopris. And not only is the peak she's targeting visible from the Windstar Land Conservancy, one of Denver's legacies, but it doesn't even have an official name. So why not his?
Her idea was immediately embraced by Denver fans, who quickly boosted the number of signatures affixed to an online petition to 2,680; McDaniel says additional physical signatures bring the total to around 3,000. However, there was also considerable backlash to the notion, as witnessed by comments like this one, posted in response to our original coverage:
John Denver was a cocaine addict who once told TV Guide that the highlight of his week was mowing his Starwood lawn in the nude. I hate this idea. Hate it. I'm a 4th generation native of Garfield County. Leave our mountain alone.
McDaniel acknowledges that some reactions to the naming concept were negative. "There's just something about things connected with John Denver," she says. "People either really support it and love it or they're just spitting nails. It's almost like there's not a gay area. They're either on one side of the fence or the other."
However, she goes on, "by far, far, far, the majority of people supported it, even though, unfortunately, some of the opposition took it to a level that was not very professional."
For one thing, McDaniel had to battle misconceptions. "This was never about renaming Mount Sopris," she stresses. "It's about assigning a name to an unnamed peak on Mount Sopris." Nevertheless, she goes on, "there was a group of people in Carbondale who were saying, 'Don't rename the mountain.' And even when things were presented to them, explained to them -- that this wasn't renaming Mount Sopris -- it didn't seem to fit in their program."
This opposition isn't responsible for delaying the application, McDaniel emphasizes, and neither are reports that the designation of the peak in Denver's honor might violate the Wilderness Act of 1964; Yost has said peak-naming in wilderness areas is typically allowed only to address safety concerns, or if the action would promote education. Rather, she says, she simply had a lot of other things to handle over the second half of last year and the early portion of 2012 -- and besides, "this is not a quick little process.
"I first contacted the geographic board three or four years ago," she points out. "That's when I got the information and started talking to people. It wasn't something done on a whim. And even after it goes to the board, Lou Yost told me it could take a minimum of six to nine months up to even a couple of years." For that reason, "I want to make sure everything is in order -- because it's almost like a one-shot deal."
As such, McDaniel is in the process of contacting a number of additional people to help with the application. Once she's confident it's been completed properly, she'll submit it -- and she doesn't think the passage of time will hurt its chances. After all, Denver has been in the news a lot of late, having been inaugurated into the Colorado Music Hall of Fame and the Denver & Colorado Tourism Hall of Fame, as well as being named a finalist for the Colorado Ski and Snowboard Museum Hall of Fame. "I think some of the recognitions that the State of Colorado has given to him in the last couple of years, especially, show that the majority of people appreciate his work," McDaniel says.
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Although McDaniel doesn't have a specific deadline for submitting the application, she says, "Hopefully, it will be soon." And that's good, because "there's a growing appreciation for John Denver as an artist and as a spokesperson for the environment -- and that's what naming the peak is all about."
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More from our News archive: "John Denver peak-naming petition may violate Wilderness Act rules."