WASHINGTON -- Legislation to make the Pinnacles National Monument, 80 miles south of San Francisco, the nation's newest national park is headed to President Obama for his signature, after the bill passed the Senate without dissent Sunday evening.
The Pinnacles, a 26,000-acre area whose strange rock spires can be seen from Highway 101, is entered through Soledad on the west and Hollister on the east. It would be the first new national park since 2004, when the Great Sand Dunes in Colorado gained park status during the George W. Bush administration.
Rep. Sam Farr, D-Carmel, and Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer shepherded the legislation through Congress, where it met little opposition after efforts to add 3,000 additional acres of wilderness protection were dropped.
Local and state officials hope the park designation will attract more tourists to the area, especially Europeans who often plan vacations around America's national parks but have little familiarity with national monuments.
"San Benito County and southern Monterey County are both economically deprived areas," said Farr, who first introduced the bill in 2009. "We thought this would be a great boost."
The designation will alter neither the size nor the management of the area, officials said. But park officials are predicting a surge of 30,000 to 40,000 visitors, in addition to the 300,000 who visit annually now.
The park's central feature is its rock spires, remnants of an ancient volcano field divided by the San Andreas fault. Its landscape contains oak savannah and chaparral. Endangered California condors were released in the area in 2003, and 33 pairs live there now, in addition to 400 species of bees and endangered amphibians such as salamanders and the California red-legged frog.
The Pinnacles National Monument was established in 1908 by President Theodore Roosevelt, at the urging of naturalist John Muir, who was instrumental in founding Yosemite National Park.