The Country's Next National Park?

Hollister, CA – Off the beaten path, south of Hollister and east of Soledad, the Pinnacles National Monument draws visitors for its caves, camping and climbing. This year it's been attracting more visitors than it has in two decades. "I think due to myriad of factors from our close proximity to urban centers to the recession having people doing shorter trips, closer to home, due to the cool weather this year. We're pushing over 200,000 visitors this year. I think people are realizing this is an unintentionally well kept secret," said Carl Brenner, a Ranger at Pinnacles.

Pinnacles is definitely no secret to Reb Monaco. "The Pinnacles is a reason that I reside in San Benito County today," said Monaco. He's a long time area resident and now a County Supervisor. His father was part of the Civilian Conservation Corps that helped construct trails and a dam at the Monument back in the 1930s. Monaco himself started camping here at the age of five and was an avid rock climber in his younger years. These days he frequently goes to Pinnacles to hike. He's one of the driving forces behind the effort to get Pinnacles' designation changed from National Monument to National Park. "A National Monument to a lot of people that's a place you go and you look at some marker or a plaque or something that you read," said Monaco, "a park has the connotation that you can go there and do something. And certainly Pinnacles you can go there and do something."

It's a change that would take an act of Congress, but the possibility looks hopeful. Congressman Sam Farr introduced a bill last year, and last month Senator Barbara Boxer put forth companion legislation. The legislators and locals believe the change would mean a boost for tourism in the region.

Pinnacles park officials have not taken on a position on the potential change. Ranger Brenner says he's unsure whether it would mean more visitors, but if it does, he's eager to share the land that drew him here from the Grand Canyon eleven years ago. "When it's really busy in the Spring time, I like to share the possibilities of going out into either the north or south wilderness areas. You don't have the drama of the rock formations, but you still get to experience the solitude and the quiet and the minimal to no impact of humans on the land," said Brenner.

The legislation to change Pinnacles from a National Monument to a National Park would also expand its wilderness with the addition of nearly 3,000 acres. With limited time left in this year's legislative calendar, Congressman Sam Farr's staff doesn't expect the bill will move forward on its own, but adds it's possible it could be included in a larger package of public land bills.