Soledad rebrands as gateway to new national park

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SOLEDAD, Calif. (AP) — Soledad, the Salinas Valley farm town that hugs Highway 101, is hoping for a much-needed economic boost now that a nearby protected mountain area called the Pinnacles has been designated as a national park.

Soledad has hired a San Jose public relations firm to help rebrand the town as the "Gateway to the Pinnacles" as a way to bring tourism dollars, the Los Angeles Times reported (http://lat.ms/11NOBHe ).

The City Council has set aside $150,000 for new river rock monuments advertising Soledad's location about five miles outside the park's west entrance. One reads: "Soledad: Feel the Momentum." Officials have purchased nine Web domain names, including gatewaytopinnacles.com, the newspaper said.

In 1908, the Pinnacles was declared a national monument and in January it was elevated to national park status, thanks to lobbying by federal, state, county and local officials.

"It's been a month since the bill was signed, and we have not stopped jumping up and down," City Manager Adela Gonzalez told the Times. "We've been screaming it off the rooftops."

The park, which features volcanic spires and caves, is a destination for rock climbers. It also is a release site for endangered California condors and boasts wildflowers, 400 species of bees and more than a dozen types of bats.

Incorporated in 1921, the town has 17,000 residents, not including those incarcerated at Soledad State Prison. John Steinbeck wrote of Soledad in "Of Mice and Men."

The town, for decades driven by agriculture, enjoyed an economic boom in the late 1990s. Growth has since slowed, and leaders hope the park's new status will revive the town's fortunes.

Gonzalez told the newspaper she hopes Soledad's entrepreneurs will seize the opportunity to open hotels and restaurants, rent out bikes or rock-climbing gear to park-goers, and launch tour companies.

"Clearly we need a more thriving sales tax base," Gonzalez said.

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Information from: Los Angeles Times, http://www.latimes.com

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