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Bennet visits Chimney Rock, continues push for National Monument status

Following up on legislation he introduced earlier this year to designate National Monument status on the Chimney Rock Archaeological area, U.S. Senator Michael Bennet visited the site last Saturday to express continued determination to see his bill passed in Congress.

Bennet stopped at Chimney Rock during a Memorial Day weekend tour through southwest Colorado. Following Saturday’s visit, Bennet travelled on to Durango, Ouray and Silverton, speaking at a number of events as he addressed issues that included job creation in the state, education and the economy.

After hiking up to the site on Saturday, Bennet reiterated his position that National Monument status would not only highlight the historic and scientific significance of the site, but would also help ensure ongoing preservation of the site’s surrounding forest land.

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 Bennet spokesman John 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 it is Bennet’s intention to expedite the process by pressing for his bill’s passage in the U.S. House of Representatives and in the Senate.

Designating Chimney Rock as a National Monument would also provide a potential 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 of 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. If National Monument status is achieved, 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.

In early May, a U.S. Senate subcommittee held a hearing on Bennet’s bill to establish Chimney Rock Archeological Area as a National Monument. On Saturday, Bennet expressed hope that all Colorado representatives would state support for the legislation.

As of press time Wednesday, only Bennet and U.S. Senator Mark Udall (also from Colorado) were on record in support of the bill. Congressman Scott Tipton from Colorado District 3 (which includes Chimney Rock and Archuleta County) has remained silent regarding Bennet’s bill.

jim@pagosasun.com

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