Meeting Friday on a path forward for Chimney Rock

Colorado always has been a state of open skies, open spaces and big ideas. And every visitor to Southwest Colorado who sets eyes on those twin spires of rock jutting more than 300 feet into the crisp mountain air – the landmark known as Chimney Rock – can grasp immediately why our state has that reputation.

Located amid a 4,700-acre site on San Juan National Forest land just west of Pagosa Springs, Chimney Rock is one of Colorado’s treasures. Ancestors of the modern Pueblo Indians lived in the surrounding lands for centuries, leaving behind the remnants of more than 200 ceremonial buildings and homes – a testament to their astronomical, architectural and cultural sophistication. Some call the area the most significant historical site managed by the entire U.S. Forest Service. That might explain why about 15,000 visitors travel to Chimney Rock every season.

Yet the site lacks a designation equal to its stature. While comparable areas across the United States have been designated as national monuments, Chimney Rock has not.

National-monument status would ensure new protections to preserve the site for future generations, without interrupting the hiking and other outdoor pursuits that locals and visitors currently enjoy. Monument status also would mean proper recognition of the important cultural contribution of the ancestral Puebloan people to the region’s, and the nation’s, rich history. Finally, it would raise the landmark’s profile, boosting tourism and economic development across Southwest Colorado.

For precisely these reasons, the local community has repeatedly endorsed a monument designation. I have heard from Coloradans from Durango to Denver, and from Fort Collins to Alamosa, who all think it’s a good idea. The mayor of Pagosa Springs, the Archuleta Board of County Commissioners and the local chamber of commerce have all issued strong statements supporting the designation of Chimney Rock as a national monument.

This bipartisanship has spread to our congressional delegation where we have been working across party lines to make the proposal a reality. When Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, entered Congress last year, he joined our efforts and introduced a bill in the House of Representatives that is a companion to the one I first introduced in 2010 with the support of Sen. Mark Udall, a Democrat. Our bills would officially confer monument status to Chimney Rock. In 2010, the Senate bill passed in committee with unanimous support. And earlier this month, a House committee approved Tipton’s bill.

Nevertheless, in a sign of Washington’s dysfunction and political obstruction, even this proposal is proving difficult to enact. Given this dynamic, I led an effort to send a letter from Western Colorado’s congressional delegation to the president last month urging him to begin a dialogue with the local community to consider declaring Chimney Rock a national monument through his authority under the Antiquities Act of 1906.

The Antiquities Act has been used by 15 different presidents – from Teddy Roosevelt to John F. Kennedy to George W. Bush – to protect nationally significant resources. Chimney Rock certainly fits that bill.

Following our letter, the Forest Service announced it would hold a public meeting to gauge public support for a presidential Proclamation and ask for feedback about how to proceed.

That meeting is scheduled for 1 p.m. on Friday at the Archuleta Fairgrounds Exhibit Hall, and I look forward to attending. I hope you’ll consider coming as well because the decision on how to move forward should ultimately be up to the people who live in and work in the area at a local level, not Washington politicians.

If you can’t make the meeting, visit my website, at and share your thoughts about national-monument designation online or submit your stories or pictures about a recent trip to Chimney Rock and why the area matters to you.

Colorado is a state of spectacular open spaces, and a state with a vibrant cultural heritage, because Coloradans have long played an active role in making it so. Let’s keep that tradition going at Chimney Rock.

Democrat Michael Bennet represents Colorado in the United States Senate.

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