Today, we learned that the 4,726-acre Puebloan ancestral landscape in the mountains of southwestern Colorado known as Chimney Rock will reportedly be designated a National Monument by President Obama this Friday.
The roughly 1,000-year-old remains of a Chacoan Indian settlement, Chimney Rock will be the third National Monument established by President Obama and joins the likes of the Statue of Liberty and the Grand Canyon. Of great spiritual significance to more than 20 Pueblos and other Native American tribes, it is one of the most culturally significant places managed by the U.S. Forest Service.
“Chimney Rock helps us understand the story of the Chacoans, ancestors of modern Pueblo Indians, most of whom do not have a written history,” says Stephanie Meeks, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. “Their history is written on the landscape, in the structures and in traditional cultural practices at places like Chimney Rock.”
More than 200 residential, ceremonial, and other structures were built on the mesa overlooking the two stone spires known as Chimney Rock and Companion Rock. A multi-story structure known as the Great House Pueblo was likely built specifically for viewing the moon rise directly between the spires during the lunar standstill, an astrological event that occurs every 18.6 years.
The Chacoans, who are believed to be among North America’s first farmers, also used the spires and their own buildings to track the sun and calculate the onset of the short growing season.
The effort to designate Chimney Rock as a National Monument began in 2009, and over the next several years, Colorado congressional members in both the House and Senate sponsored bills on its behalf.
As a continued disagreement in the Senate over public lands legislation again stymied success this spring, Colorado senators Michael Bennet and Mark Udall, along with Representative Scott Tipton, sent a letter asking President Obama to begin discussions with the local community about the use of his powers under the Antiquities Act of 1906 to designate the monument.
The area was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1970 and since 1988 has been maintained by the Forest Service. The Chimney Rock Interpretative Association, a small group of volunteers, was granted with a special use permit by the Forest Service to help maintain the area, perform archeological work, and give public tours each year between May 15 and September 30.
The designation will likely provide additional funding for the site’s preservation and further protect the site from development with a legal preservation mandate.
Addressing the benefits of today’s news, Senator Bennet also pointed out that “tourism is one of [Colorado’s] leading economic drivers, and (the) National Monument designation for Chimney Rock (will) provide a tremendous boost for the economy in the region.”
A study released by the Trust in early July supports Senator Bennet’s statement, indicating that following national monument designation, the number of annual visitors to the site will likely grow from an average of 12,000 to 24,000 over the next five years and will contribute $2.4 million to the local economy annually.
“In a very tangible way, preserving Chimney Rock helps to weave our multicultural nation together,” says Meeks.