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Monument designation gains wider support

Courtesy Mark Roper, San Juan National Forest Pago

The Chacoan Great House and pinnacles in the background are among the features that, proponents say, make Chimney Rock a candidate to become a national monument.

By Dale Rodebaugh Herald staff writer

PAGOSA SPRINGS – A proposal to designate the Chimney Rock Archaeological Area as a national monument drew wide support here Friday.

The occasion was a “listening session” for Harris Sherman, undersecretary of natural resources and environment at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez.

Bennet and Tipton, along with U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., have introduced legislation to make Chimney Rock a national monument. But the three also have asked President Barack Obama to sidestep the legislative process and make the designation by executive fiat.

Fifteen presidents have availed themselves of the power under the Antiquities Act of 1906, and Obama has used it twice.

Denise Ryan, program manager for public lands policy at the National Trust for Historic Preservation, has been following the issue since John Salazar, Tipton’s predecessor, introduced legislation in 2009.

Ryan said Friday the House could well approve monument status this legislative session. But opposition from some senators and the relatively few days left in the session don’t bode well for getting approval this year, she said.

She’s pinning her hopes on a presidential proclamation.

The 4,700-acre Chimney Rock Archaeological Area is in the San Juan National Forest about 15 miles west of here and is managed by the U.S. Forest Service, which falls under Sherman’s purvey. The agency hosted the meeting Friday.

About 150 people attended the gathering, held at the Archuleta County Fairgrounds.

Chimney Rock was home to the ancestors of modern Puebloan people, flourishing for more than 300 years starting around A.D. 800. It holds cultural, spiritual and historical significance for today’s Puebloans.

The Puebloans were astute lunar observers. They noted the lunar standstill, the rising of the moon between the twin spires every 18.6 years.

Sherman said Obama will be looking for certain markers in order to create a national monument – strong local support, preservation of any existing rights and the protection of intrinsic values themselves.

Four Native American groups – Hopi, Zuni, Cochiti and Southern Ute – sent representatives to the meeting.

Additionally, Chandler Sanchez, head of the All Indian Pueblo Council, attended. The council represents 19 pueblos in New Mexico and one in Texas.

Twenty-four people spoke from the floor. In addition to the Native Americans, they were tour guides, local government and business representatives, researchers, interested area residents and the Colorado Council of Churches.

The only dissenting voice was that of Camille Cazedessus, one of four people who own property near Chimney Rock. He pooh-poohed the uniqueness of Chimney Rock. There are places with the same name in North Carolina, California, Nebraska and Oregon.

Increased status as a monument would bring more visitors and more noise, he said. He also doesn’t like the idea of Washington, D.C., having more involvement with the site.

The Native American spokesmen support making Chimney Rock a national monument. But they emphasized that their ties to the site must be respected.

Increased economic development alone isn’t a convincing reason, they said. One said: “We want a place at the table” in decision making.

Everyone else who spoke favored monument status, whether by legislative action or presidential proclamation. But they seemed to lean toward persuading Obama to move quickly.

Darrel Knuffke, retired from the Wilderness Society, said, “Congress can turn a walk in the park into a death march.”

The legislators and Sherman were pleased with the attendance.

“We got your message,” Sherman said. “A genuine bipartisan effort will make a difference.”

daler@durangoherald.com

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