The Science of Sustainability

Welcoming Pinnacles to the Elite Club of National Parks

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Pinnacles National Park

The pinnacles at Pinnacles are remnants of a volcano. (Photo: The Pokerbird/Flickr)

If you visit the slice of Central California serenity known as Pinnacles, you might notice the sign out front now says, “National Park.” It became a national park in January when President Barack Obama signed a bill introduced by Central California Congressman Sam Farr. On Monday, the first sign that says so was unveiled.

It’s the nation’s 59th national park, and the ninth in California, making it the state with the most national parks. Pinnacles was already a national monument, which comes with the same level of protection as a park. But Farr said the new designation will bring more attention and jobs to Monterey and San Benito counties.

“The significance of moving a designation from a monument to a national park is tremendous,” Farr said. “People don’t get in their cars in the summer to see national monuments. They do take the family to visit national parks.”

Farr introduced the legislation at the urging of local chambers of commerce. But he’s a bit of a parks geek himself: he named all the national parks in California — in order of their establishment — during our interview. His father, Fred Farr was a politician, environmentalist and friend of Ansel Adams.

“I always felt that one of the greatest accomplishments you could make in public life is to set aside land in permanent protection and national parks, to me, is the crown jewel of all of those,” said Farr.

bee pinnacles

There are hundreds of different species of bees in Pinnacles. (Photo: National Park Service)

Pinnacles, named for the slender rocky spires at its center, is home to endangered California condors and hundreds of species of bees in addition to its geological attractions. It was set aside as a monument by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1908. (Presidents can create national monuments, but only Congress can create national parks.)

Documentary filmmaker Ken Burns voiced his support for the elevation of Pinnacles to national park. In a letter to Congress, he wrote, “A Pinnacles National Park would preserve a unique portion of our land: not only a critical record of geological time (what John Muir would have called a "grand geological library")”

“It now takes its place with Yosemite, the greatest collection of geothermal features on Earth, [and] the grandest canyon on earth, the Grand Canyon," Burns told me in an interview. (He also said Yosemite is his favorite national park – score one more point for California in the national parks category.)

California condors have been reintroduced in Pinnacles. In 2010, a pair laid an egg in the park  for the first time in 100 years.  (Photo: Brian Sims/Flickr)

California condors have been reintroduced in Pinnacles. In 2010, a pair laid an egg in the park for the first time in 100 years. (Photo: Brian Sims/Flickr)

For Pinnacles staff, much will stay the same. Nichole Andler, chief of interpretation and education at the park, said their uniforms won’t even change.

“As far as our day to day jobs, it will all be very similar,” she said. “But there is a lot of excitement around this. It's a neat thing for us too: we work here, we love Pinnacles, we think it’s a special place. We recognize that the public will recognize Pinnacles in a different way now that our name says National Park.”

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar was at the ceremony Monday afternoon, along with other state and local officials. And rangers were ready with spotting scopes, in case any condors decided to swoop by.

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Category: Environment, Geology

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Molly Samuel

About the Author ()

Molly Samuel joined KQED as an intern in 2007, and since then has worked here as a reporter, producer, director and blogger. Before becoming KQED Science’s Multimedia Producer, she was a producer for Climate Watch. Molly has also reported for NPR, KALW and High Country News, and has produced audio stories for The Encyclopedia of Life and the Oakland Museum of California. She was a fellow with the Middlebury Fellowships in Environmental Journalism and a journalist-in-residence at the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center. Molly has a degree in Ancient Greek from Oberlin College and is a co-founder of the record label True Panther Sounds.