Map of National Monuments, includes California's Pinnacles National Monument
WASHINGTON - The United States gained its 59th national park Thursday when President Barack Obama signed legislation to re-designate California's Pinnacles National Monument as a park.
The 26,000-acre area, which is west of the popular Monterey Peninsula in central California's Gabilan Mountains, is to be re-named Pinnacles National Park.
MORE: California's Pinnacles National Monument
It will be the state's ninth, joining Yosemite, Redwood, Joshua Tree, Sequoia, Kings Canyon, Death Valley, Lassen Volcanic, and Channel Islands national parks.
Renaming Pinnacles will increase its profile, attract more tourists and boost the region's economy, said Rep. Sam Farr, D-Carmel.
He sponsored the re-designation bill, which Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., shepherded through the Senate. Among the bill's supporters was documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, who did a film on America's national parks in 2009.
Monterey County attracts tourist drawn by the marine sanctuary, the famed aquarium, Big Sur, and world-class golf resorts and vineyards.
"But most of the tourism has been emphasized on the coast," Farr said. "Now, for the first time, we give national recognition to our mountains."
Renaming Pinnacles will provide a psychological boost, he said.
"People get in their cars in the summers not to drive to national monuments but to drive to national parks," Farr said in a telephone interview. "And I think a lot of people, even in our region, have never appreciated the uniqueness of the Pinnacles."
The Pinnacles -- the Central Valley's only national park -- is home to 30 endangered California condors that live among the cliffs, 149 species of birds, 49 species of mammals, 22 species of reptiles, six species of amphibians and more than 500 species of butterflies, dragonflies and bees.
The area marks the remnants of an ancient volcano and is known for its rock formations. It includes massive monoliths, stone spires and canyons and shows evidence of millions of years of erosion and the movement of tectonic plates.
Pinnacles was the 11th oldest national monument in the U.S. and was established by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1908.
Fred Ledesma, mayor of Soledad, said the re-designation will be a "godsend" to the local economy, as the number of yearly visitors to Pinnacles is expected to double from the current 300,000 due to the re-designation.
Local officials must work hard to lure tourists to the Monterey coast to drive over the mountains to the state's newest national park, he said. And the last town on the way inland before reaching the Pinnacles is Soledad, where Ledesma envisions new hotels, surging business at nearby wineries, and big investments to upgrade roads and other infrastructure.
The National Parks Conservation Association, a group that lobbies on behalf of the park system, said Soledad, Salinas, Greenfield, King City and Paicines would all benefit from the re-designation.
Neal Desai, the group's associate director for the Pacific Region, stressed the environmental benefit of elevating the Pinnacles' status.
"The park's sanctuary for the California Condor and native wildlife, its red crags, caves, impressive displays of spring wildflowers, and opportunities for star viewing under its . . . dark skies make Pinnacles a special place and worthy of its national park status for future generations to enjoy," he said in a statement.
Desai said Congress should now expand the Pinnacles by including 18,200 acres of geologically important land beside the park. The land owner wants his acreage included as part of the Pinnacles, he said.
By Raju Chebium, firstname.lastname@example.org
Gannett Washington Bureau