WASHINGTON — The House is closer to renaming a Yosemite National Park peak after Jessie Benton Frémont, bringing the 19th-century activist and political spouse into a 21st-century tussle.
Over National Park Service objections, a House panel on Thursday approved a bill to redesignate the current 12,117-foot Mammoth Peak as Mount Jessie Benton Frémont. The prominent peak, near Kuna Lake, is Yosemite’s sixth-highest.
Frémont was the wife of famed explorer and politician John Frémont and an ardent advocate of preserving Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoia trees.
“The naming of the peak is an important and overdue step in recognizing her important contributions to California and the nation,” said Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif.
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The House Natural Resources Committee’s green light of McClintock’s bill on a voice vote foreshadows easy approval by the Republican-controlled House. It does not, however, guarantee the name change will happen. Other Yosemite-area renaming proposals have stalled before, and some have been stuck for years.
A companion Mount Jessie Benton Frémont bill has not been introduced in the Senate, where its prospects may be hindered by the National Park Service’s resistance. “The National Park Service generally discourages the commemorative naming of landscape features in national parks,” Victor Knox, the park service’s associate director, testified last month.
Frémont, born in 1824, was the daughter of U.S. Sen. Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri, a champion of the nation’s westward expansion. She helped popularize her husband’s exploration accounts and promoted federal protection for Sierra Nevada public lands. According to the park service, her advocacy inspired President Lincoln’s actions protecting Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove.
The Mount Jessie Benton Frémont proposal follows in the footsteps of other Yosemite-area renaming campaigns. They can be an uphill slog.
In 2007, for instance, Yosemite aficionados failed to persuade the U.S. Board on Geographic Names to name a 12,002-foot peak after the late alpine botanist Carl Sharsmith. In 2008, Republican skeptics of the environmental movement stopped legislation to rename Yosemite’s 14,242-foot North Palisade Peak after the late environmentalist and mountaineer David Brower.