Conservative activist Chuck Muth has won one for the Gipper, but he needs one more victory to reach his goal.
Muth’s push to name a valley mountaintop after Ronald Reagan is headed to Washington, D.C., for a deciding vote after winning the stamp of approval from an obscure state panel in charge of reviewing such things.
During a meeting in Reno Tuesday, the Nevada State Board on Geographic Names voted 5-2 in favor of Muth’s proposal to name the 4,052-foot peak of Frenchman Mountain after the 40th president.
The final call will be made by the U.S. Board on Geographic Names, which could take up the matter before the end of the year.
“We’re thrilled, absolutely thrilled,” Muth said. “With a strong vote in our favor, we like our chances.”
No matter what happens, Frenchman Mountain will still be called Frenchman Mountain. Muth’s proposal only concerns the mountain’s highest point, a treeless and as-yet-nameless bump with a communication tower sticking out of it.
The state board’s decision came despite “a stack” of last-minute opposition to the Mount Reagan idea, said UNLV vice provost and geology professor Margaret “Peg” Rees, who is the board’s only member from Southern Nevada.
She said she voted no because of that opposition and her own belief that the peak lacks sufficient “grandeur” to be named for Reagan or anyone else.
Though technically the tallest peak on the valley’s eastern skyline, it doesn’t stand out enough to be easily recognized as the highest point, Rees said. It’s also bracketed on one side by what used to be the community’s garbage dump and on the other by a trash-strewn patch of desert heavily scarred by off-road vehicles, illegal dumping, illicit parties and target shooters.
“It’s a shooting gallery. It’s been that way for 20 years,” Rees said. “I won’t allow my (geology) students to go up there after 3 o’clock. It’s just too dangerous.”
Rees also worries that adding another name to the mix will only deepen the confusion among local residents who already have trouble telling the difference between Frenchman Mountain and Sunrise Mountain, which is three miles to the north and almost 700 feet lower.
State naming board Chairwoman Linda Newman said she cast the other vote against Mount Reagan after seeing her email box fill with criticism of the proposal, nearly all of it generated by an online petition drive.
“Yes, some of it was politically charged,” Newman said of the emails and letters the board received, “but there was significant objection to putting any name on it, even if they’re confused about which mountain is what.”
Muth has been trying for years to get something in Nevada named after Reagan, a personal and political hero of his. His effort is an offshoot of the Ronald Reagan Legacy Project, which national conservative leader Grover Norquist launched in 1997 in hopes of plastering the president’s name on as many landmarks as possible.
The original target in Nevada was Boundary Peak, the state’s highest point at 13,146 feet, but that idea quickly fizzled when Muth and company learned how hard it is to change an existing place name.
Though Rees said it is “highly unusual” for the national naming board to go against a recommendation from a state board, it has happened before.
The most famous example, at least in Nevada, came in 2011, when the national board shot down a state-endorsed plan to name a Lake Tahoe cove after Samuel Clemens, the writer and newspaperman better known by the pen name Mark Twain.
The idea was rejected at the federal level amid opposition from the U.S. Forest Service, which still blames Clemens for “carelessly” starting a forest fire at the lake in September 1861.
Members of the public will have at least one more chance to weigh in on the Mount Reagan proposal. Newman said the state board is in the process of collecting feedback from local governments and American Indian tribes in the area. After that, the national board will collect additional public input before rendering its decision.
Rees said those who plan to comment would be wise to avoid partisan attacks. Politics are not part of the criteria for naming things. If all a comment says is “I want Mount Democrat and I hate Reagan, it goes nowhere,” she said.
More information on the U.S. Board on Geographic Names and the naming process in general is available online at geonames.usgs.gov.
Contact reporter Henry Brean at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0350. Follow him @RefriedBrean on Twitter.