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Obama Hears Pitch from Fort Ord Monument Supporters

March 7, 2012

SALINAS, Calif. – Supporters of an effort to designate Fort Ord as a national monument are back from Washington, D.C., and waiting to hear if their pitch to President Obama was good enough.

Maryanne Leffel, president of the Monterey County Business Council, says not only would a national monument designation protect the valuable open space and its habitat, it would also boost the local economy. She says tourism already brings in $2 billion a year, mostly because of the popular Monterey Bay Aquarium. If Fort Ord were made a national monument, more visitors could enjoy the nearly 100 miles of hiking, biking and horseback riding available on the former military base, explains Leffel.

"This would actually make it an official designation, so that the area could market it as such – because we get visitors from all over the world, and they don't realize until they get here that they could have taken part in some of these other activities."

The proposal calls for designating some 15,000 acres of public land as the Fort Ord Soldiers National Monument, which Congress could recognize under the Antiquities Act of 1906. Between 1917 and 1994, Fort Ord housed and trained 1.5 million U.S. soldiers.

Groups from around the country, all collaborating on local conservation projects, were called to Washington, D.C., last week for a White House Conference on Conservation. Leffel says it was a chance to show the administration just how serious her group is about making Fort Ord a national monument.

"I think the Western United States is just kind of raising its hand and saying, 'Look at us, we've got some beautiful areas and can we protect them? And can we start really marketing them as a place for the world to come?'"

The conference was part of the president's Great Outdoors Initiative, a campaign announced last year to expand recreational opportunities on public lands.

Lori Abbott, Public News Service - CA