In a rare moment of consensus in a Congress mired in bitter partisanship, the U.S. Senate in the waning days of the last session approved a bill creating a new national park in California.
President Barack Obama signed the bill last week, creating our state's ninth national park.
Championed by U.S. Rep. Sam Farr, D-Carmel, and with the co-sponsorship of Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, the Pinnacles National Park Act (HR 3641) passed the House unopposed on a voice vote in July.
In the Senate, Sen. Barbara Boxer fought to overcome an anonymous "hold" on the bill, finally getting the bill to the floor on Dec. 30, where it passed by unanimous consent.
Rising out of the Gabilan Mountains near Salinas in San Benito County, this 26,000-acre park is a marvel of sheer canyons, talus caves with tunnels and spectacular spires formed by the eruption of Neenach volcano more than 23 million years ago -- all shaped by movement of the Pacific and North American tectonic plates that run through the park.
The Pinnacles also are home to the California condor.
And the park offers a unique cultural heritage, settled in different eras by American Indians, early Spanish settlers, homesteaders from the East and Basque sheepherders.
At the heart of California's central coast and the coastal mountain range,this is the first national park for that region -- elevating it to first-class status in visibility and visitorship. And because national parks are established in legislation by Congress, they have stability and permanence, and get direct line-item appropriations from Congress.
That first-class status has been a long time coming.
President Theodore Roosevelt first set aside Pinnacles as a national monument in 1908, but only Congress can designate a national park. It took 105 years. By contrast, Roosevelt set aside the Lassen volcanic area in Northern California as a national monument in 1907 and Congress made it a national park in 1916, a nine-year journey.
The only sour note in the Pinnacles saga is that the House adopted an amendment by Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, cutting a provision that would have added 3,000 acres to the existing 14,500- acre wilderness area within the park. The last Congress was the first since 1966 not to designate new wilderness lands.
In addition, an adjacent landowner has urged Congress to allow his 18,200-acre property to be included in Pinnacles, but Congress has yet to act.
It's time to celebrate the new national park -- the first since President Bill Clinton signed the bill creating Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado in 2000 -- and to keep at the task of adding significant natural lands to it.