PAICINES, Calif. — With a California condor overhead and history underfoot, hundreds of people gathered beneath a canopy of blue skies Monday to celebrate an accomplishment almost as rare as statehood itself: the dedication of America’s 59th national park.
Pinnacles National Park, a geologic snapshot of the tectonic forces that shape the lay of the land, was embraced by schoolchildren, Native American tribal leaders and high government officials as both a protection of the past and a preservation of the future.
“Today, Pinnacles is no longer a monument, it is a national park. It is iconic in the same way as the Grand Canyon and Yosemite and Yellowstone and Acadia,” said U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.
The rededication of the 26,000-acre park brings few changes to the park itself. Its main draw remains the commanding rock formations that inspired Pinnacles’ name and an astonishing array of biodiversity, including the endangered California condor.
But as the California Central Coast’s first national park, it has brought renewed attention many hope will fuel an economic boon for the area. And the surest sign of its value on that front may be in the rivalry it has ignited between two mayors.
Hollister Mayor Ignacio Velazquez and Soledad Mayor Fred Ledesma live on opposite sides of the park, in the nearest cities to its two main entrances. Both are claiming their cities as the gateway to Pinnacles.
“It’s the prettier side,” said Ledesma, making a pitch for the west entrance, which includes a new visitor station. “And to get to the west side, you have to go through Soledad.”
“But the east side has all the camping, all the facilities,” chimed in Vazquez.
The east side also hosted Monday’s event. The bill creating the park was the brainchild of Rep. Sam Farr, D-Calif., who has been a relentless pitchman for the Central Coast during his 33-year political career.
“Having a grandchild makes you a futurist,” Farr said, recalling how a congressional colleague had just become one. “It is them that I think about when we preserve this for the future _ for the generations to come and for the children yet unborn.”
California Secretary of Natural Resources John Laird also was there.
“If you work your way up the west side of the Salinas Valley, up those hills, and you look back, the Pinnacles just rises. And if you have any doubt of why it’s a national park … looking at it from that angle, it deserves to be one of the 59 nationally,” Laird said.
The Pinnacles are in the ancestral range of the Mustun and Chalon people. Mutsun Chair Val Lopez spoke a prayer and sang as part of the dedication.
The Pinnacles are the only national park with plate tectonics as a main interpretive theme, with volcanoes having helped shape the towering rock spires. It is also notable for talus caves, home to several species of bats.
“This is truly a historic moment. We’ll be able to share the beauty that we have in our area with hopefully hundreds of thousands of people all over the world,” said Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Watsonville, who represents the area.
The land was made a national monument in 1908 by Theodore Roosevelt, after landowner Skyler Hain worked connections to bring the Pinnacles to the president’s attention. Pinnacles’ wilderness area is being named after Hain, and several descendants were on hand Monday.
Paul Hain, 59, Skyler’s great-grandson and a Tres Pinos resident, said he hoped the dedication would benefit the region economically. The idea to name land after his predecessor came as a pleasant surprise, he said.
“We were happy, very happy,” Hain said.