President Obama will designate SW Colorado cultural site under the Antiquities Act
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — One of the most significant cultural sites in Colorado will get a boost this week, when President Obama officially designates Chimney Rock National Monument as part of the Americas Great Outdoors Initiative. The designation provides permanent protection to the 4,700-acre Chimney Rock Archaeological Area in the San Juan National Forest.
“Chimney Rock is almost certainly the most significant cultural site managed by the U.S. Forest Service,” said Richard Moe, who launched the push for monument designation six years ago. “The national monument designation will bring deserved national recognition to a place of significant archaeological and cultural importance to our country.”
This national treasure, and our country’s newest national monument, represents one of the farthest outposts of the Chacoan culture. Home to more than 200 homes and ceremonial buildings built more than 1,000 years ago, the area is of great spiritual importance to the Pueblo tribes of the Southwest.
“The story of my tribe, the Pueblo of Acoma, and our history is intimately connected to Chimney Rock. This place is still sacred to my people, and we are glad to see it will now be protected for our children and grandchildren,” said Chandler Sanchez, chairman of the All Indian Pueblo Council and former Governor for the Pueblo of Acoma. “As a national monument, the ancestral homes of my people will continue to provide inspiration to the thousands of people who visit this site.”
This designation comes in response to support from the Pueblos and other Native American tribes, local community members and elected officials at the local, state and national levels, including Archuleta County Commissioners, the Durango and Pagosa Springs Chambers of Commerce and strong support from the Colorado congressional delegation.
“We are grateful that President Obama has safeguarded Chimney Rock. Thanks to the President’s action, Americans will be able to enjoy this spectacular natural and historic treasure for generations,” commented Brian O’Donnell, executive director of the Conservation Lands Foundation.
An independent economic study released this summer estimated that the national monument designation will double the economic benefit to the local and regional economy. “As a southwest Coloradan, I know that Chimney Rock National Monument will be a large conservation and economic win for our community,” O’Donnell said.
Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet also praised the decision by President Obama to designate Chimney Rock as a national monument. The president will use his authority under the Antiquities Act of 1906 to make the designation.
“Chimney Rock contains the rare combination of a spectacular geologic formation with extraordinary cultural, historical and archeological significance. Coloradans have made it clear that those attributes should be matched with national monument status. It will be an extraordinary boost for the region and the state,” Bennet said.
“For the last three years we’ve been making that case to Congress and more recently we’ve been urging the Administration to use its authority under the Antiquities Act,” Bennet said. “The President’s establishment of Chimney Rock National Monument will preserve and protect the site and drive tourism, drawing more visitors to the region and the state and bringing more dollars into the local economy.”
Bennet led efforts in the Senate to designate Chimney Rock a national monument. He has worked closely with local leaders, members of the Colorado congressional delegation and the administration to advance efforts. In 2010, he first introduced a bill in the Senate, cosponsored by Senator Mark Udall, to establish national monument status. Last Congress, the bill passed out of committee and was subsequently blocked on the Senate floor by a minority of senators.
Representative Scott Tipton introduced a similar bill that passed the House of Representatives with bipartisan support.
In April, Bennet, Udall and Tipton sent a letter to President Obama, urging him to begin a dialogue with the local community to explore all options to give the Chimney Rock archeological site the recognition and protection it deserves, including presidential declaration. The Antiquities Act of 1906 grants the president the authority to proclaim, by executive order, sites of historical significance as national monuments, garnering protection.
Following the letter to the president, Bennet and Tipton joined officials from the U.S. Forest Service in May at a listening session to collect input on the best path forward for designation of the 4,700-acre archeological site. The meeting was attended by Pagosa Springs Mayor Ross Aragon, members of the Archuleta County Board of Commissioners and area tribal leaders from the Southern Ute and Zuni Pueblo tribes, along with about 120 people from around the region.
In July, an economic impact study commissioned by the National Trust for Historic Preservation found that a national monument designation would bring an additional $1.2 million to the local economy every year.