Creating a National Monument

Portions of Fort Ord, the decommissioned Army base in Monterey County, became a National Monument in 2012. What happened next?

by Stuart Thornton
Feb. 10, 2015—What will happen if the Coast Dairies property on the scenic north coast of Santa Cruz County is designated as Santa Cruz Redwoods National Monument? Will the region be transformed with new structures, trails, parking lots, and bathrooms? Would a national monument designation mean that there might be a Santa Cruz Redwoods National Park soon? We look south to neighboring Monterey County for hints about what could happen here.

In 2012, Pres. Barack Obama declared that a portion of the land on the former U.S. Army post Fort Ord would become the Fort Ord National Monument. “The protection of the Fort Ord area will maintain its historical and cultural significance, attract tourists and recreationalists from far and near, and enhance its unique natural resources, for the enjoyment of all Americans,” Obama proclaimed.

Fort Ord National Monument manager Eric Morgan, of the Bureau of Land Management, notes that the proclamation didn’t bring about immediate sweeping changes. Before the designation, the land was already protected by the BLM as an “area of critical environmental concern.”

“The reality is that there were not a whole lot of changes in how we managed the property,” Morgan says.

Don't forget the campaign kickoff for the Santa Cruz Redwoods National Monument, this Thursday, Feb, 12, 6-8pm. FREE.

Read Traci Hukill's account of a hike at the Coast Dairies property.

Since the area was already protected, the National Monument designation basically means that the land can never be sold by BLM or leased for natural gas or mineral rights. “National Monument designation is meant to protect the unique, nationally significant objects and values of an area in perpetuity,” Morgan says.
Unlike the Coast Dairies property, Fort Ord was already open to the public prior to receiving national monument status, with trails popular with hikers, mountain bikers and equestrians. Under national monument designation, Coast Dairies—which has been off limits to the public for more than 100 years—will be open for such uses.

While the Fort Ord National Monument hasn’t seen an influx of federal funds since 2012, it was spared during sequestration. “We haven’t lost funding, but it hasn’t been a big increase that you could attribute to the monument,” Morgan says.

The land’s new status does mean that Fort Ord National Monument will be more competitive for funding from federal and state agencies. And as with national monuments across the country, private organizations and “Friends” groups, including the Fort Ord Recreation Trails (FORT) Friends, have organized to provide money from foundations and individuals. FORT Friends has raised money for projects such as the Trailhead Maintenance Fund from sources including the Conservation Lands Foundation and PG&E.

In addition, it is possible that schools and universities will embark on environmental education and research projects to learn more about the land and its 35 species of rare plants and animals.

A national monument designation is not necessarily a path to national park status—though Monterey County’s Pinnacles National Monument finally become a national park in 2013, after 105 years of being a monument. Therefore don’t expect a Santa Cruz Redwoods National Park anytime soon.
What has happened since part of Fort Ord was designated a national monument is that the public is more interested in visiting. “We have seen a substantial increase in the amount of visitation,” Morgan says.

In 2011, before the designation, 250,000 to 300,000 people visited Fort Ord annually. Now, after President Obama’s proclamation, annual visitor numbers have jumped to 400,000 people a year.

This interest has caused Monterey County’s cities and its hospitality industry to start promoting Fort Ord National Monument as another area attraction, alongside popular destinations like Cannery Row, the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Big Sur. If Santa Cruz Redwoods National Monument becomes a reality, it could become another reason for people to visit the area alongside the Boardwalk, the state parks and Pacific Avenue.

There would be major differences between Santa Cruz Redwoods National Monument and Fort Ord National Monument, but the Monterey County park proves that a national monument designation could be a real boon to Santa Cruz County.

So far, all of the developments from the designation in Monterey County have been positive. “It was greatly welcomed,” Morgan says, “and the local community really likes having it.”

Stuart Thornton is a freelance writer who has lived in Monterey County since 1997.