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Grant to fund Chimney Rock National Monument shuttle

Staff Writer

Access to the Chimney Rock National Monument is about to get easier for visitors to the archaeological site.

U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced Monday that Chimney Rock will receive a grant of $140,000 from the Federal Transit Administration Paul S. Sarbanes Transit in the Parks Program (Transit in the Parks Program) to provide alternative transportation for visitors to the monument.

The site is located off of Colo. 151, south of the intersection with U.S. 160. Here, visitors will find a visitors center cabin, restrooms and parking. The distance from the base to the summit parking lot of the monument is three miles with an elevation gain of 1,000 feet. This distance is a lengthy walk for visitors if the summit parking lot is full.

The Forest Service estimates that 12,000 people visited Chimney Rock in 2012. Approximately 8,000 of these visitors were a part of formal tours offered by the Chimney Rock Interpretive Association (CRIA). This number of visitors is expected to grow due to the designation of the site as a National Monument on Sept. 21, 2012.

The grant will be used by the USFS to purchase three, full-sized 12-person alternative fuel passenger vans. Drivers of the vans will not be required to hold a commercial driver’s license.

Space benefits

The new shuttles will provide visitors with a better experience, with transportation from the lower to the upper parking areas.

The upper parking lot of Chimney Rock contains 28 parking spaces for visitors. Not only is this not enough parking for visitors to the National Monument, but there is also no expansion in the future due to the parking lot being tightly surrounded by archaeological areas and cultural resources. The shuttles used will relieve the congestion at the summit lot.

Large events at the National Monument include Night Sky Archaeoastronomy Programs, Solstice/Equinox Programs, Life at Chimney Rock Festival, Puebloan Pottery Workshop, and the Native American Cultural Gathering. These events have been known to attract hundreds of visitors to the site.

The new shuttles will help by moving many of these visitors up and down the hill. This will reduce congestion to and from the size-constrained summit parking and the base areas.

Safety benefits

Not only will the service provide a better experience for visitors, but it will also be a safer experience. The road starting from the base that leads visitors to the summit is a narrow gravel road. The new shuttle service will reduce accident risks on this road and alleviate congestion for emergency vehicles, with helpful information exchanged during transit.

The new transport will reduce traffic and encounters between walkers, hikers and vehicles. It will provide reliable access for motorists who may not be comfortable with the driving conditions, including motorcyclists, RV users (who can’t park at the summit) and vehicles with trailers.

With the reduction of traffic and congestion will also be a reduction in the amount of driving-related accidents in the lots and on the road.

Parking at the summit will be handicapped accessible and will include spaces for the new vans.

Environmental benefits

The shuttle service will reduce the negative impacts on the cultural resources at Chimney Rock. The summit parking area is located in the middle of the archaeological site where many natural and cultural resource values can be experienced by visitors.

Reducing the number of vehicles parking on the road near archaeological sites will also reduce the amount of erosion of the cultural resources. By lessening the traffic, the shuttle will reduce maintenance requirements at the site and will help save energy and reduce carbon emissions.

Hiking experiences in the area will also improve through the reduction of dust, noise and air pollution.

While there will be modest increases in tour fees in order to cover the operation and maintenance costs of these shuttles, a trip to the National Monument will provide a better, safer and more beneficial experience for visitors.

While there are still logistics to be worked out, the shuttle service will be implemented as soon as possible. It is expected that most visitors will use the new shuttles.

Chimney Rock National Monument’s operational season starts May 15 and ends at the end of September. Implementation of the shuttle service will not expand the tour season.

CRIA is always looking for volunteers to work at the site. With the introduction of the new shuttle service, even more opportunities will be open. Contact CRIA at 731-7133 or the website at www.chimneyrockco.org for more information on volunteer opportunities.

Melissa.Stedman@pagosasun.com

This story was posted on February 21, 2013.
  • joy losee

    Great and informative article. Writer seems to know her stuff!!