Sen. Michael Bennet pushes for Chimney Rock National Monument

(Helen Richardson, chimneyrockco.org)

Senator Michael Bennet Tuesday reintroduced a bill that would establish Chimney Rock Archeological area in southwest Colorado as a National Monument. A version of the bill Bennet introduced last year was approved by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee with bipartisan support.

“Chimney Rock lacks a designation equal to its historically and culturally significant stature,” said Bennet in a prepared statement. “Local leaders, economic development officials and environmental advocates all agree: It’s time to give Chimney Rock the designation it deserves. Working together, we will move this bill forward, providing much-needed protection – and much-deserved recognition – for Chimney Rock that will preserve this archaeological treasure for the enjoyment of generations to come.”

Chimney Rock is located West of Pagosa Springs in Colorado’s Archuleta County. The bill would designate 4,726 acres surrounding Chimney Rock Archeological Area as a National Monument to preserve, protect, and restore the nationally significant archeological, cultural, scientific, watershed and scenic resources. Chimney Rock will remain a unit of the San Juan National Forest, and Native American tribes will retain access to the sites for traditional and cultural uses.

Pagosa Springs Mayor Ross Aragon told The Colorado Independent he supports the measure wholeheartedly. He said he wants to see the area’s history preserved and that he thinks being designated a national monument would help to drive tourism.

“It will be great for economic development,” he said. Aragon, who has been mayor since 1978, said he does not know of anyone opposed to the monument designation. “I don’t know of any opposition and in this day and age, that is really surprising, but I can’t think of any reason anyone would be opposed,” he said.

Aragon said he thought U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton supported the designation, but Tipton spokesperson Joshua Green told The Colorado Independent that Tipton has not taken a position yet.

“Congressman Tipton is interested in this issue, but before he pursues any legislation on it he believes it is important to hear from the community and get all of the opinions of the key stakeholders in the area,” Green said via email.

The 4,700-acre site located on San Juan National Forest land is recognized as perhaps the most significant historical site managed by the entire U.S. Forest Service, Bennet said. Exhibiting the features that earned Chaco Canyon (NM) a World Heritage Listing, Chimney Rock was recognized as a National Historic Landmark in 1970. Between A.D. 900 and A.D. 1150, the ancestors of modern Pueblo Indians occupied the surrounding lands, and the site remains of cultural significance to many descendant tribes. Hundreds of cultural elements surround Chimney Rock’s soaring twin rock spires, including the Great House Pueblo. Every 18.6 years the moon, as seen from the Great House Pueblo, rises between the rock spires during an event known as the Northern Lunar Standstill.

Last year, Bennet testified in support of the bill in a hearing before the National Parks Subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, which is chaired by Senator Mark Udall, who is an original cosponsor of the bill.

The bill is endorsed by: The Pagosa Spring Chamber of Commerce, Archuleta County Commissioners, The Colorado Historical Society, Colorado Preservation Inc. and The National Trust for Historic Preservation among many others.

Scot Kersgaard has been managing editor of a political newspaper, editor and co-owner of a ski town newspaper, executive editor of eight high-tech magazines (where he worked with current Apple CEO Tim Cook), deputy press secretary to a U.S. Senator, and an outdoors columnist at the Rocky Mountain News. He has an English degree from the University of Washington. He was awarded a fellowship to study internet journalism at the University of Maryland's Knight Center for Specialized Journalism. He was student body president in college. He spends his free time hiking and skiing.

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