WASHINGTON – A proposal to make Chimney Rock a national monument was considered Wednesday in a U.S. Senate subcommittee hearing, marking a key step in the legislative process.
The bill would affect the twin rock spires and the surrounding Native American archaeological site, an area that spans about 4,700 acres and is part of the San Juan National Forest. The site is the former home of an ancestral Puebloan village.
Supporters of the bill say the national monument designation would boost tourism and aid conservation efforts.
Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., introduced the bill earlier this year, with Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo, signing on as an original co-sponsor. A similar bill passed out of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee last year.
“Chimney Rock has incredible historical and cultural significance, yet the site lacks a designation equal to that stature,” Bennet wrote in his testimony. “Passage of this bill also will provide increased tourism and economic development in southwest Colorado.”
Bennet also said in his statement that the site is recognized by many archaeologists as perhaps the most significant historical site managed by the U.S. Forest Service.
The remnants of houses, ceremonial buildings and other historic artifacts that date back 1,000 years are located on the site. They surround Chimney Rock, where the moon rises between the rock spires every 18.6 years in an event called the major lunar standstill.
The Deputy Chief of the National Forest Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Joel Holtrop, supported the designation of Chimney Rock as a national monument in his testimony before the subcommittee.
“We believe the rich history, spectacular archaeological, cultural, scientific, watershed and scenic resource values, as well as community support, merits the designation of the area as a national monument,” he said.
The Subcommittee on National Parks hearing also considered several other bills that would designate other sites as national parks. At the hearing, Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., pointed to the economic benefit many states receive from national parks.
“Every day people go in this country and around the world to the National Parks website looking for places to spend their vacation and, frankly, their money,” he said. “Hotels to stay in, motels, campgrounds, restaurants to eat in, grocery stores to shop in, souvenirs to buy, other things.”
Karen Frantz is a student at American University and an intern for The Durango Herald. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org