WASHINGTON – Chimney Rock may be on track to becoming a national monument with legislation slated to be introduced in Congress today.
The bill would affect the twin rock spires and the surrounding Native American archaeological site, an area encompassing about 4,700 acres. U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet will introduce the bill, with U.S. Sen. Mark Udall signing on as an original co-sponsor. Both are Colorado Democrats.
Bennet said in a statement that designating the area a national monument will provide Chimney Rock with protection and recognition. It is now a national forest archaeological area.
“Chimney Rock lacks a designation equal to its historically and culturally significant stature,” he said.
The land is part of the San Juan National Forest and is the former home of an ancestral Puebloan village. The site is dotted with remnants of houses, ceremonial buildings and other historic artifacts that date back 1,000 years. They surround Chimney Rock, where every 18.6 years the moon rises between the twin rock spires in an event called the major lunar standstill.
Chimney Rock would still be part of the national forest, but the designation would set it apart for additional preservation and protection. The bill would require the secretary of agriculture to consult with Indian tribes to create a management plan for the site. The plan would be open to public comment.
Native American tribes would still be allowed to access the site for traditional ceremonies and other cultural uses.
Some local communities hope the designation would boost tourism and help efforts to conserve the site. The Pagosa Springs Town Council supports it because of the site’s importance to the region and community as a whole, said James Dickhoff, a town planner.
“We were looking for a little bit more national recognition and tying it into the other Anasazi cultural sites around the Four Corners region,” Dickhoff said. “It really kind of completes the grand circle of the Chaco settlements, brings a little bit more funding opportunities to Chimney Rock.”
Chaco Culture National Historic Park, center of the Chacoan civilization, is about 100 miles south in New Mexico.
The Pagosa Springs Chamber of Commerce, Archuleta County commissioners, the Colorado Historical Society, Colorado Preservation Inc. and the National Trust for Historic Preservation also have supported designating Chimney Rock a national monument.
Last year, Bennet introduced the same bill, which was approved by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee but expired before it could be considered by the full Senate. At this time, there is no companion bill in the House.
Karen Frantz is an American University student and an intern for The Durango Herald. She can be reached at herald@durango herald.com.