“Why isn’t this a National Monument?”
That is the question frequently asked by visitors to the Chimney Rock Archaeological Area.
The general response by the volunteers who conduct all the public activities is,“We’re working on it.”
Last week, I had the opportunity to work on it in Washington, D.C., representing the Chimney Rock Interpretive Association at the Great Outdoors America Week, a conference created by the Wilderness Society, National Trust for Historic Preservation and other outdoor organizations. People came from all over the country to discuss issues regarding public lands in their area.
It was a week in which our every day and hour was scheduled to meet with congressional legislators and their staffs to acquaint them with the uniqueness of Chimney Rock.
I was accompanied by Bill Lipe, a retired archaeology professor from Washington State University, active board member of Crow Canyon Archaeological Center in Cortez, and strong advocate for Chimney Rock.
We were able to meet with staff of all of the Colorado Congressional delegation. On the House of Representatives side we requested support and co-sponsorship for Rep. Scott Tipton’s Bill, HR 2621, and on the Senate side we asked for support for Sen. Michael Bennet’s Bill, S 508. Our position is strengthened by the fact that legislation has been drafted on both the Republican and Democratic sides of the aisle. We were encouraged to be speaking for an issue that can bring unity instead of divisiveness. We also met with staff of the Resources Committees for the House and Senate, since the bills have to pass through these committees before being taken up by Congress. At the suggestion of Rep. Tipton’s staff, we also met with some of the New Mexico legislators to request their support of his bill.
I was happy to have the chance to personally thank Sen. Bennet, Sen. Udall and Rep. Tipton for their hard work on behalf of Chimney Rock.
I was very glad that Bill Lipe and I were able to meet with a number of legislative staff members. Many, including those representing other parts of Colorado, were not very familiar with the Chimney Rock Archaeological Area, and the importance of the National Monument designation. A few of the reasons we conveyed: the uniqueness of the site itself with a Puebloan Great House at the top of the mesa and its relationship to the culture at Chaco Canyon. The evidence that the site was used by people 1,000 years ago for astronomical observation, including the Major Northern Lunar Standstill, an event that occurs every 18.5 years. The site needs to be protected and available for future research. It was important to stress the role of all the volunteers at Chimney Rock and the positive relationship between them and the Forest Service personnel in the San Juan National Forest. It is a unique example of government and private sector working together.
There were a few other important points to consider in getting unified support for National Monument status. It will not require an increase in appropriations. Public activities at Chimney Rock are funded by tour fees, grants, and donations. Volunteers of the Chimney Rock Interpretative Association would continue to conduct activities, remaining under the supervision of the San Juan National Forest staff. The local economy would be helped because tourists often make an effort to visit National Monuments, so may spend more time in Pagosa Springs. The current activities of camping, hiking, fishing, hunting, etc. would not be changed since the National Monument would remain as part of the San Juan National Forest. I also liked to add that Chimney Rock is more accessible to all age levels and physical abilities since half of the tour is on an easy paved path, and half goes up steeper, rocky path. Visitors can choose an experience that fits their needs.
The special concern we at Chimney Rock give to the visitors is the reason they ask, “Why isn’t this a National Monument?”
I left D.C. rather exhausted, but feeling that I accomplished the most significant goal: the folks there know about our local enthusiasm and why Chimney Rock is a very special place to the people here in southwest Colorado.