GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (AP) — There was a time you set up your camp, ate your dinner and headed to the campfire talk. It might include a park ranger's chat about local plants and wildlife or a slide show featuring area landscapes. Then you walked back to camp and tucked in for the night, falling asleep under a starry sky.

It's been decades since the days of the campfire talks at Colorado National Monument, which started to sunset in the 1990s, but the monument and its fundraising arm, the Colorado National Monument Association, want to restore the place where the magic happened, bringing the amphitheater back to its original luster.

The group is launching a campaign to raise $500,000 through grants and community fundraising to refurbish the amphitheater, its seating area and trails.

The amphitheater is located in a clearing of pinyon pine and juniper trees between the park's Saddlehorn Campground and a picnic area near the visitor center. An asphalt trail leading to the amphitheater has seen better days, and is now separated and cracked in spots. Red clay sediment and rocks have filled some culverts under the trail. The trail's grade is too steep to navigate with a wheelchair and likely too bumpy for elderly guests. Wooden benches with seating for up to 250 people rest in a half-circle around the amphitheater, but the seats are bleached out and deeply cracked after years in the hot sun.

But the silence — save for bird calls and the rustle of wind in the trees — high above the Grand Valley is stunning.

"I never get tired of the views up here," Michael Paxson, executive director of the Colorado National Monument Association, said on a recent tour of the site. "It's just a shame not to utilize this space."

Before any work gets underway, the monument must perform a study to determine whether it must reconstruct the area to keep with its historical significance or if can change the nature of the shed-like amphitheater. The infrastructure was created during "Mission 66," a 10-year time frame between 1956 and 1966 when the nation focused on boosting infrastructure in national parks.

The monument hopes to use $380,000 of renovation dollars for trail work, widening the paths to 4 feet. The remaining dollars would be used to upgrade the benches and on other amphitheater improvements.

After the area is revitalized, it can serve as a spot for weddings, concerts or other outdoor gatherings, creating a possible revenue source for the park, monument Superintendent Ken Mabery said. "This has been mothballed because we just don't have the funds for upkeep," he said.

The monument still is seeking funds to tackle a long list of general deferred maintenance projects, so the partnership with the Colorado National Monument Association can help jump-start some other projects that fell off the park's priority list. Plans for a visitor center near the east entrance to the monument have been tabled as the park lacks funding for that endeavor.

"We can get things done through that public-private partnership," Mabery said

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Information from: The Daily Sentinel, http://www.gjsentinel.com