Thousands of Coloradans have signed a petition to name the eastern peak of Mount Sopris near Carbondale after the popular singer, whose 1972 hit “Rocky Mountain High” is one of Colorado’s two official state songs.
The petition organizer, J.P. McDaniel of Littleton, announced last week that she had turned in an application for the proposed John Denver Peak, along with more than 2,800 signatures, to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names.
Putting Denver’s name on the map may be tougher than anticipated, however. The peak lies in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Area, and the board frowns on adding new names to wilderness areas, said board Executive Secretary Lou Yost.
The Wilderness Act of 1964 states that a wilderness area is recognized as one “where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man,” and Mr. Yost said the board “feels that extends to naming new features in wilderness areas.”
“The board felt [after the act was passed] that naming new features might detract from the wilderness experience,” Mr. Yost said. “Very few new names have been applied to wilderness areas.”
He added that the board will consider exceptions in the cases of, for example, safety, education or “an overriding need.”
The peak does have a John Denver connection: The singer-songwriter wrote “Rocky Mountain High” while camping at Williams Lake, which lies on the southeastern edge of Mount Sopris. Ms. McDaniel, who knew Denver, has said he was inspired by a meteor that flew across the sky that night, hence the lyric, “I’ve seen it raining fire in the sky.”
That song may or may not fulfill one of the requirements for naming a geographic feature after an individual, which is that the person “must have a direct and long-term association with the feature or a significant contribution to the area or state in which it is located.”
The peak also can be seen from the Windstar Land Conservancy, a plot of 1,000 acres of farmland and wilderness that Denver bought in 1978 and that continues to be maintained by the Windstar Foundation, which he co-founded.
The petition in favor of naming the peak after Denver emphasizes his dedication to conserving and protecting the environment.
“John Denver contributed much to enrich many lives,” the petition says. “His timeless music brings enjoyment to people worldwide; his numerous humanitarian projects continue to bring about positive changes; and his passionate environmental and conservation efforts remain significant.”
Despite Denver’s iconic status in Colorado, there has been some backlash to the proposal.
A Facebook page, “Don’t Name Mt. Sopris After John Denver,” has attracted more than 150 “friends” and raised the ire of Carbondalers, who point out that the peak is nearer to Carbondale than Aspen, where Denver made his home for 30 years.