Proposed 'John Denver Peak' Sparks Controversy

fromKUNC

A petition drive is under way in Colorado to name a mountain peak in honor of the late singer John Denver. But it is meeting resistance from some residents.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host: In Colorado, there is debate not over a title, but over a name. And that name is John Denver Peak. The late folk singer and environmentalist was revered by many in Colorado, but not everyone shares that reverence. And now, a petition to name a mountain peak near Aspen after him is reviving differences of opinion about his legacy. Kirk Siegler reports from member station KUNC.

KIRK SIEGLER: For the record, first, John Denver is not a native Coloradoan. Henry John Deutschendorf was born in Roswell, New Mexico, into a military family that moved around a lot. But as a nature lover, he started coming here a lot and writing songs, starting in the late '60s.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ROCKY MOUNTAIN HIGH")

JOHN DENVER: (Singing) He was born in the summer of his 27th year.

SIEGLER: Changing his name and quickly becoming Colorado's favorite adopted son, he was even designated the state's poet laureate. In posh Aspen, a prime stretch of riverfront real estate was designated the John Denver Sanctuary after he died in a plane crash. And it was a few miles west and a few thousand feet above Aspen, at Williams Lake on the slope of Mount Sopris, where legend has it he penned the lyrics to his most famous tune, now an official Colorado state song.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ROCKY MOUNTAIN HIGH")

DENVER: (Singing) It's a Colorado Rocky Mountain high. I've seen it raining fire in the sky.

J.P. MCDANIEL: Hi. I'm J.P. McDaniel from Littleton, Colorado, and I am proposing that the name on the east peak - which is currently unnamed - of Mount Sopris be named John Denver Peak.

SIEGLER: A friend and former colleague of Denver's, McDaniel says her effort is meant to honor his environmental work and the mark he left on the state.

MCDANIEL: To the state, to the region, John Denver is part of our history here - in the minds of people, in the hearts of people, and geographically.

SIEGLER: All of which McDaniel must demonstrate to a federal board that rarely approves such petitions. Still, McDaniel thinks the historical argument is an easy one. John Denver, she says, epitomizes Colorado. And true, for many baby boomers looking to move west in the '70s, he was the draw.

RON LOCKER: For 30 years now, when people ask me, why did you move to Colorado? My answer has always been the call of John Denver.

SIEGLER: Ron Locker(ph) is a newspaper columnist in Boulder. He says John Denver's songs hit the charts at a time when California was filling up. And for better or worse, they put scenic Colorado on the map. Well, it's one of the reasons why the peak-naming proposal is stirring up some old wounds. Some here think all those quaint folk songs caused the state to become overdeveloped and too glitzy. After all, John Denver's Starwood property in Aspen was the beginning of one of the country's most exclusive communities. Others, like longtime mountaineer and blogger Lou Dawson, think his credibility as an environmentalist is overhyped.

LOU DAWSON: What I oppose - and a lot of other people as well - it's causing confusion and going against local tradition and what's on the maps and so forth, and basically renaming a peak.

SIEGLER: Local opposition is only one obstacle facing backers of the name change. According to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names, which will consider the petition soon, applications for new peak names in wilderness areas are only ever considered for educational reasons, or when the safety of the public is at stake. ..TEXT: For NPR News, I'm Kirk Siegler in Denver.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ROCKY MOUNTAIN HIGH")

DENVER: (Singing) Rocky Mountain High, Colorado. Rocky Mountain High, Colorado.

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