The parking lot at the fairgrounds was packed. The room, filled with chairs, was standing room only.
Though the public session to give input on Chimney Rock Archaeological Area being designated a national monument was a full two hours, with questions cut off so special guests could make their plane, it was not the words of the audience, but the numbers that spoke the loudest.
Special guests Sen. Michael Bennet, Rep. Scott Tipton, USDA Undersecretary Harris Sherman and Regional Forester for the Rocky Mountain Region Dan Jiron were in attendance during last Friday’s listening session and all seemed overwhelmed by the strong community showing.
“This is the largest town meeting I’ve seen in my years on the job,” Bennet told the crowd at the Archuleta County Extension Building.
“This is awesome to see a full house on a Friday afternoon,” Jiron said.
“This great turnout will leave an impression,” Sherman said.
“So many people being here on a Friday afternoon demonstrates how important this is to the community,” said Tipton.
San Juan National Forest Supervisor Mark Stiles acted as mediator for the session. “Chimney Rock has a deep spiritual connection that’s apparent to me as I visit with today’s Pueblo people,” Stiles told the crowd.
The four special guests, along with Pagosa District Ranger Kevin Khung, Archuleta County Commissioner Clifford Lucero and Mayor Ross Aragon were on the panel, and available to answer questions regarding the different avenues that could lead to the national monument designation: legislation or presidential action through means of the Antiquities Act.
Bennet, who is working together with Tipton to pass the legislation, said, “There is nothing wrong with the legislation. The Senate is having a hard time moving anything forward.” He hinted that, perhaps, Tipton would have an easier time moving the bill through in the House.
“We will pass this legislation,” Tipton told the crowd, and added, “Not only will it pass, but it will pass with big numbers. The time has come and it is appropriate.”
Yet, it was Sherman who pushed, and had backing from the majority of the audience, for designation through process of the Antiquities Act. The reason for the use of the Antiquities Act would be the hope of speeding up the legislative process.
President Theodore Roosevelt first used the act to proclaim Devil’s Tower a national monument in 1906. Grand Canyon would later be preserved by this act in 1907. In more recent years, President Obama has used the Antiquities Act to designate Fort Monroe and Fort Ord as national monuments.
Sherman, speaking on behalf of the Forest Service, said, “We don’t care how it gets done, we just want to see it get done.”
Sherman added that this designation would not only preserve Chimney Rock as a historical, cultural and sacred landscape, but it would also help put Pagosa Country on the map, which in turn would increase tourism and hopefully encourage visitors to Pagosa to stay in the area longer than just half a day.
Chandler Sanchez, chairman for the All Indian Pueblo Council, representing 20 pueblos in the Southwest, spoke in support of the national monument designation, emphasizing that throughout this entire process, “Many sacred sites are traded in the name of economic value without viewing it as a sacred being,” Sanchez said, however, as this process continues, he emphasizes the need for the Pueblo people to be kept abreast and involved in the process.
Throughout the two-hour session, people from the community representing churches, archaeologists, tribal nations, environmentalists, economic interests and landowners stood up to either say or read words of support. In the two-hour time span, only one man stood to raise a voice in opposition of national monument status. “No, no, no, absolutely no,” the man said, not giving his name. His view was based on owning land that would be affected by the designation.
Terry Sloan, speaking on behalf of the Southwest Native Cultural Center, said his organization supported the designation. “The main reason,” Sloan said, “is to protect the site. We’ll be gone in 1,000 years, but we’d like the site to still be there.” Sloan went on to explain how he had dreams of being a young man and going to school at Chimney Rock 1,000 years ago.
Deborah Gangloff, president and CEO of the Crow Canyon Archaeological Center, spoke on behalf of the center, reiterating the center’s support of using the Antiquities Act to obtain the sought-after designation; the reason — the glacial pace of the both the Senate and House in passing any legislation.
Tipton and Bennet left the crowd with the assurance that their desire and support had been heard.
“I will push to see this designation happen,” Tipton said.
Sherman also assured members of the audience that their concern and their message had been heard and would be taken back to President Obama.
“Thank you on behalf of President Obama,” Sherman said.
As of press time, no additional government action has been taken with regard to Chimney Rock. However, Jiron said that once motion begins, action will have a fast time frame.