Residents of the Colorado town of Crestone have petitioned the U.S. government to change the name of a local mountain, sparking a heated debate and controversy that revolves around community rights, history, and the lasting legacy of an American legend.
At the heart of the controversy is the 14,165-foot tall Kit Carson Mountain, located in the he Sangre de Cristo Mountains, not far from Crestone itself. The peak is named for the famous trapper and frontiersman who gained notoriety when he led explorers through the American West back in the 1840’s. Later he would play a part in the expansion into California and would also organize the New Mexico militia during the Civil War. But he is also accused of leading a brutal military campaign against the Navajo Indians that resulted in the tribe being forced off their lands, and into captivity, for a number of years. It is because of those actions, that the residents of Crestone are seeking the name change. The 104 Crestone residents who have signed the petition requesting a name change say that the city was founded back in 1880’s and the mountain was always called Crestone Mountain dating back to that era.
The mountain was officially given the name of Kit Carson back in 1970, when it still sat on privately held lands. But in 2004, the U.S. government purchased those lands to expand the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, moving the mountain squarely into the realm of public property. The U.S. National Park Service manages the lands that surround Kit Carson Mountain, and they don’t seem too keen on letting a small number of locals dictate the name of any monuments or landmarks that are on property that they oversee. Likewise, hikers and climbers have known the peak as Kit Carson Mountain for over 40 years, and they feel the name change would cause confusion as well. With 54 mountains above 14,000 feet in height in Colorado, the outdoor enthusiasts take their climbing seriously.
The debate over the topic will continue for another few months at least. The Board of Geographic Names, the 18-person committee that reviews these kinds of petitions and disputes, will need to review the situation before they cast their votes, but at the moment, it isn’t looking good for Crestone.
[Photo credit: Leahcim506 via WikiMedia]