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By Lindsey Bright
In the last copy of The SUN, it was noted in the article “Chimney Rock designated as National Monument,” that Chimney Rock would transition out of use of volunteers. This, however, is not true.
Wendy Sutton, archeologist with the San Juan National Forest clarified in an interview with The SUN that the U.S. Forest Service has no plans to phase out the participation of members of the Chimney Rock Interpretative Association (CRIA).
“CRIA is one of the strongest volunteer organizations nationally,” Sutton said, and added that the dedicated work of the CRIA volunteers is one of the reasons that Chimney Rock received the National Monument designation through President Obama’s use of the American Antiquities Act.
“The CRIA volunteers are invaluable,” Sutton said. Currently, CRIA has 100 active volunteers. With the new designation of national monument, CRIA is anticipating an increase of tourism at the site and, with that increase, there will be a greater need for volunteers.
Sutton has worked with CRIA for the past four years, since she first moved to the Pagosa area. “Working with the CRIA volunteers is great. Some of what makes it worthwhile is that they have so much excitement and enthusiasm for what they’re doing,” Sutton said, and added, “They’re doing this because they love it.”
Sutton explained that the U.S. Forest Pagosa Ranger District has managed and will in the future continue to manage Chimney Rock. CRIA operates by special use permit. The relationship between CRIA and the USFS, Sutton describes as a great and successful collaboration.
Joan Ward, president of the board of trustees for CRIA, agrees.
“We have a great relationship with the Forest Service,” Ward said. This volunteerism that keeps Chimney Rock open to tourists, Ward said makes the site more a part of the Pagosa community, makes Pagosans feel that this site is part of their land, part of their town.
“It’s a more intimate experience than Mesa Verde,” Ward said.
The CRIA volunteers are essentially responsible for keeping the Chimney Rock site open. These responsibilities include maintenance work, trail maintenance, weed pulling, putting up and taking down signs, keeping signage up to date, maintaining the benches, leading the tours, organizing special events, running the visitor’s cabin and monitoring the self-guided tours. CRIA also is responsible for the maintenance of the restrooms. While, Ward explained, the Forest Service will replace any part of the structure that breaks, CRIA is responsible for cleaning the restrooms, as well as paying for a company to empty the tanks. All volunteers are trained in first aid and CPR, and some volunteers are prepared for search and rescue situations.
All these things, however, are on-site responsibilities. CRIA also has an office it maintains in town, from which it organizes special functions, special tours, arranges and schedules all the events. They also create and distribute all Chimney Rock marketing material, with USFS approval. CRIA volunteers work with USFS staff to write grants and make sure there is enough funding to maintain Chimney Rock.
According to Sutton, CRIA has been involved over the last few years in securing over $485,000 in grants used at Chimney Rock. They have provided significant resources, valued at over $35,000, as a match for these grants. Grants from America’s Treasures, Colorado State Historical Fund, Gates Foundation, Tourism Cares for Tomorrow and University of Colorado were used to fund stabilization work at Chimney Rock, which included some excavation efforts in 2009, associated with fill reduction. CRIA has also been awarded grants from the San Juan Outdoor Club and The National Trust for Historic Preservation for other projects at Chimney Rock.
“At this time, they (USFS) can’t have it (Chimney Rock) opened if they don’t have group to staff,” Ward said.
“We need more volunteers,” continued Ward, “more volunteers for everything.” Ward encouraged anyone interested in volunteering to call the CRIA office at 731-7133 and to make sure to leave a message.
For all interested in becoming a volunteer, a two-day training is provided, with participants going over historical and geographical aspects of Chimney Rock, as well as safety and legal issues. The two-day training is usually offered in May. However, Ward said, if anyone is interested in becoming a volunteer, training can be arranged.