DENVER - It is a real mountain after all.As the Denver Mint cranked out the first ceremonial Colorado quarters Wednesday, the designer settled months of debate by acknowledging the image is not a composite but is based on Longs Peak, one of the state's better-known 14,000-foot summits.Gov. Bill Owens said he was told the image was a symbolic mountain rather than a specific place. But artist Len Buckley told The Associated Press he based the design on a photo he took of Longs Peak, the highest point in Rocky Mountain National Park, during a family vacation in the 1980s."I recalled in the Rocky Mountain National Park you can see Longs Peak from all over," said Buckley, who lives in Damascus, Md. "I went through slides we had taken at the time and found the vantage point."He said he liked Longs Peak for its majesty and jagged features, which he felt represented the state's highest peaks. Sculptor Norman Nemeth used Buckley's finished design to make the stamp used to mint the quarters.At Wednesday's ceremony, Owens addressed the lighthearted controversy over whether the quarter was one Colorado mountain or a symbol of them all."We're told it was an emblematic mountain, but it turns out the artist may have actually drawn a specific mountain," Owens said. "I don't know which mountain the artist looked at. It's indicative of all the mountains of Colorado, and if an artist back at the mint happened to look at one and feature it, that's fine with me."Owens said it didn't matter to him either way. Smiling, he declined to guess."I'm not going to get into that controversy," he said.The mint has already begun pressing the new quarters in advance of the June 14 release date. The ceremony drew Owens, first lady Frances Owens and U.S. Treasurer Anna Escobedo Cabral, who helped press a button on a press and the ceremonial quarter popped out of a slot."You'll see this quarter tonight on eBay," Owens quipped.A moment later, he leaned over to Cabral and joked, "They misspelled Colorado."Denver Mint manager Timothy Riley said the plant will produce 575 million to 650 million Colorado quarters over the next 10 weeks. The ceremonial first quarter was bagged and will be authenticated and mounted in Washington, D.C., then returned to the state, Riley said.Colorado is the 38th state to be emblazoned on the quarter. They are being produced in the order their states joined the union.Frances Owens chaired the committee that reviewed 1,500 suggestions, narrowing the selection down to five for the governor to choose from. She said she did not pick a favorite or try to influence her husband's decision. Both the governor and first lady said the decision was difficult."It may not be the most lush so far as the number of trees, but it's the most beautiful state, the most diverse, our waters, our foliage, our animals, it's very difficult to bring all that together with one quarter," Frances Owens said.Bill Owens said the coin will be in circulation for decades."The Colorado quarter is going to be an ambassador for our state," he said. "The Colorado quarter is worth far more than just two bits, it's a 25-cent advertisement for one-of-a-kind, endless beauty that we know and love here in Colorado."
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