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CA Desert Communities Say “If You Build It, They Will Come”

June 3, 2010

Three Southern California chambers of commerce have joined in support of the California Desert Protection Act, currently making its way through the U.S. Senate. They say their communities would benefit from the bill, which would expand Joshua Tree and Death Valley National Parks and the Mojave National Preserve. It would also designate two new national monuments: the Mojave Trails monument along historic Route 66 and the Sand to Snow National monument.

George Kopp, president of the Joshua Tree Chamber of Commerce, says the protected areas will bring more tourists to the desert to see such an awe-inspiring place.

"Anytime you create a new area of wilderness or any kind of protected area, it increases interest and people want to go see what is worth protecting up here. People will come and we think it's really great for us."

Paul Smith, owner of the historic 29 Palms Inn and member of the chamber, says they believe creating the two new national monuments will increase tourism and create new jobs.

"It's not small business, Joshua Tree National Park attracts over 1.2 million visitors a year. You could, very conservatively, estimate that between two and four hundred dollars per visitor is spent in their visitation."

Karen Lowe, president of the Morongo Valley Chamber of Commerce, says the Sand to Snow National Monument will do more than protect the snow-capped mountains of San Bernardino and the desert wildlife of Joshua Tree.

"We envision that the same thing could happen for Morongo Valley that's happened for Joshua Tree; that we would have small businesses and artistic businesses that spring up in support of the parks, including the little outback shops and art shops."

According to the Bureau of Land Management and National Park Service, recreational visitors to the desert currently contribute $230 million to the region. The bill is now being considered by a U.S. Senate committee. More information about the California Desert Protection Act is available at www.californiadesert.org.

Lori Abbott, Public News Service - CA