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Chimney Rock, a National Monument?

The proposal to designate Chimney Rock as a National Monument continues to gain momentum, explained John Whitney, regional director for the office of Rep. John Salazar, at a presentation at the Archuleta County Extension building during a presentation Jan. 13.

Chimney Rock is currently owned and maintained by the U.S. Forest Service on 4,100 acres of USFS property. The site possesses numerous structures that date back over 1,000 years, left by ancestors of the modern Pueblo Indians. It was given designation as a National Historic Site in 1970. According to Whitney, a National Monument designation would give the site, “A higher level of protection; it’s like the gold standard.”

While National Monument designation is usually accomplished through presidential proclamation (and, by the Antiquities Act of 1906, does not require Congressional approval), those proclamations are traditionally made at the very end of a president’s term in office. However, a designation can be made by an act of Congress and, as Whitney explained, it is Salazar’s intention to expedite the process by submitting a bill to Congress that would establish Chimney Rock as a National Monument.

Designating Chimney Rock as a National Monument would be a boon to the local economy as the site would be added to the National Register of Historic Places and would drive more tourists to the area, especially so-called “history tourists” — one the fastest growing segments of the tourism industry.

Furthermore, the designation would mean an infusion of cash into the area as infrastructure and staffing needs are increased. As a National Monument, the federal government would greatly increase funding for Chimney Rock. Currently, the site is staffed and maintained through USFS funding as well as donations and fees collected by the Chimney Rock Interpretive Association.

Included in the list of improvements for Chimney Rock as National Monument: a new, expanded visitor’s center, improved trails and signage, improved fencing surrounding the area, new restroom facilities and expanded parking (including accommodations for shuttles and tour buses).

Whitney explained that while there are no immediate plans to expand the site, it could expand if adjacent properties were purchased, exchanged for other federal land or acquired through donation. However, Whitney assured property owners that eminent domain was not a provision of Salazar’s bill.

With the bill set for submission later this year, Salazar’s office has been in discussion with the Southern Ute tribe regarding the proposal as well as in continuing dialogue with 33 other tribes currently using the site.

Tate Rosenbusch, another representative for Salazar, emphasized that the congressman’s office was inviting comments from all local residents prior to Salazar’s introduction of the bill.

“Nothing is final, at this point,” he said. “You’re the folks who live here. We want to make sure we do this right.”

jim@pagosasun.com