Bennet, Udall, Tipton Ask President to Consider National Monument Designation for Chimney Rock

Monday, April 23, 2012

Bennet, Udall, Tipton Ask President to Consider National Monument Designation for Chimney Rock
Letter to President Most Recent Effort by Bennet, Udall and Tipton to Give Chimney Rock the Recognition and Protection It Deserves

Washington, DC – Colorado U.S. Senators Michael Bennet and Mark Udall and U.S. Representative Scott Tipton have asked President Obama to explore all options to give Chimney Rock the recognition and protection it deserves by making it a national monument in a letter sent Friday.

Specifically, they are asking the Administration to engage in a discussion with the local community to determine whether it should use its authority under the Antiquities Act of 1906 to declare Chimney Rock a national monument.

“Chimney Rock is considered by many to be the most significant cultural site managed by the Forest Service nationwide, yet it lacks a designation equal to that stature,” the Senators and Congressman wrote in a letter to the President. “A National Monument designation would not only give Chimney Rock the true recognition it deserves, but would also help secure the economic future of the region.”

A number of local stakeholders support this request to have the President explore exercising his authority to declare Chimney Rock a national monument. Ross Aragón, mayor of the Town of Pagosa Springs, wrote a letter to the President expressing the community’s strong support for national monument designation for Chimney Rock. The Board of County Commissioners of Archuleta County also sent a letter to the President expressing their unanimous support for protecting Chimney Rock as a national monument.

“Despite its well-recognized historic and cultural values, and the generous efforts of our community’s volunteers, Chimney Rock lacks the protection it deserves,” Mayor Aragón wrote in his letter to the President. “National monument designation would provide that protection, and help to ensure the area’s stewardship into the future. In addition, the recognition provided by national monument designation would provide a much-needed boost to our community, which continues to suffer from one of the highest unemployment rates in Colorado.”

“Chimney Rock is a treasure of national significance, offering visitors a window into early Pueblo people’s culture, architecture, and astronomical understanding,” the Archuleta County Commissioners wrote in their letter to the President. “The greater recognition and visibility associated with national monument designation for Chimney Rock will add heritage tourism to the list of key economic drivers, bolstering our County’s tourism businesses that continue to struggle with the lagging recession. Accomplishing National Monument designation in the near future will benefit Archuleta County’s businesses, residents and ultimately help to secure the regional economy for the future.”

“The Pagosa Springs Chamber of Commerce hopes that the community and federal agencies can come together on a bi-partisan level to discuss moving this very important designation of Chimney Rock as a National Monument under the Antiquities Act,” said Mary Jo Coulehan, executive director of the Pagosa Springs Chamber of Commerce. “While we had hoped that the designation process would have made it through the legislative process, we would encourage President Obama to set up a dialogue to consider moving this Southwest Colorado treasure to a protected status as a National Monument.”

Chimney Rock is located West of Pagosa Springs in southwest Colorado’s Archuleta County. 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.

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.

The Antiquities Act of 1906 grants the President the authority to proclaim, by executive order, sites of historical significance as national monuments, garnering protection.

Bennet has introduced a bill in the Senate, cosponsored by Udall, to establish Chimney Rock as a national monument. Tipton has introduced a similar bill in the House of Representatives. Both bills have received committee hearings.

Last Congress, the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, of which Udall is a member, passed Bennet’s bill with broad bipartisan support.

Full text of the letter is included below.

Dear Mr. President:

As Members of Congress representing western Colorado, we write regarding the Chimney Rock Archeological Area located on United States Forest Service land in the southwest corner of our state. We are strong supporters of an ongoing effort to make Chimney Rock a National Monument. While efforts to this point have focused on legislation – S. 508 (Bennet/Udall) in the Senate and H.R. 2621 in the House (Tipton) – we are interested in exploring all possible avenues to achieve National Monument recognition for this remarkable area. To that end, several stakeholders in the community – including the local mayor of Pagosa Springs, CO and the Archuleta County Commissioners – have suggested the possibility of you using your authority under the Antiquities Act of 1906 to achieve the same goal as our bills in Congress. We write today to explore such an effort.

Chimney Rock is considered by many to be the most significant cultural site managed by the Forest Service nationwide, yet it lacks a designation equal to that stature. This geologic and cultural marvel sits on roughly 4,700 acres of public land within the San Juan National Forest. The ancestors of the modern Pueblo Indians occupied the site between A.D. 925 and 1125 and Chimney Rock remains significant to the Pueblo and other descendent tribes. The cultural artifacts and the rich history surrounding the twin spires of Chimney Rock earned the location listing on the National Register of Historic Places in 1970.

More recently, the geologic and cultural importance of Chimney Rock has been highlighted by the local community – including the mayor, county commission and local Chamber of Commerce – as they asked us to introduce legislation that would designate Chimney Rock a National Monument. S. 508 and H.R. 2621 have both received favorable hearings in their respective chambers. S. 3303 (Bennet/Udall) in the 111th Congress was favorably reported out of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources in a bipartisan voice vote.

A National Monument designation would not only give Chimney Rock the true recognition it deserves, but would also help secure the economic future of the region. Estimates from local economic development agencies indicate that a Monument designation would provide significant growth for local businesses near the site.

Given this great potential, we would ask that the Administration engage in a discussion with the local community to determine whether Chimney Rock warrants designation as a National Monument through your aforementioned authority. We feel such a discussion would be welcomed with enthusiasm, provided the Administration is committed to doing robust outreach to the local Native American tribes (including tribes outside the State of Colorado) and stakeholders in the local community, and provided any subsequent Presidential proclamation would adhere very closely to the parameters of the legislation pending in Congress – including protection for existing uses at the site and no additional expenditure of taxpayer dollars.

While we still intend to pursue our legislation, we are not naïve to the realities of Congressional gridlock in Washington. We feel the future economic benefits of a National Monument designation are significant for the region, and those benefits shouldn’t be forestalled because Congress can’t act in a timely manner. We would request that you move forward in outlining an orderly Administrative process to determine if Chimney Rock warrants National Monument designation under the Antiquities Act.