With a quick flourish of his pen, President Obama signed the proclamation designating the Chimney Rock Archaeological Area in Colorado as a National Monument on Friday, September 21. At the Chimney Rock site near Pagosa Springs, Colo., preservationists celebrated the announcement with a memorable ceremony attended by nearly 250 community members, local, state and federal officials, and tribal leaders, including Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Nancy Sutley, and Senator Michael Bennet. The Pagosa Brewery in nearby Pagosa Springs even created a special beer, Ancestral Ale, in honor of the occasion.
Efforts to get Chimney Rock designated began almost four years ago, under the encouragement of former National Trust president, Richard Moe. An advocacy campaign, conceived and led by the National Trust engaged a diverse coalition of people and organizations, including a bipartisan group of local and statewide elected officials, Puebloan and tribal leaders, and private citizens.
National Trust staff began by organizing community meetings and field trips to the site to gauge interest. Community residents and the many allied groups responded with great enthusiasm, and the newly-formed coalition got busy in earnest. Coalition members lobbied congressional representatives to support legislation establishing Chimney Rock as a national monument. They developed a marketing campaign to spread the word about the importance of the site, using posters and stickers and media outreach to enlist interested supporters
Their efforts paid off. In May 2012, H.R. 2621, the Chimney Rock National Monument Establishment Act, sponsored by Rep. Scott Tipton (R-CO), passed the House of Representatives, and a Senate companion bill, S. 508, sponsored by Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Mark Udall (D-CO), had a hearing in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in May 2011.
However, when the bill stalled in the Senate, the coalition took another tack and advocated for the President to use his authority under the Antiquities Act of 1906 to designate the site as a National Monument. A public meeting in May attracted almost 250 people who voiced their support for the designation to a host of officials who conveyed that message to the White House.
Also in May, the National Trust named Chimney Rock a National Treasure, one of the irreplaceable places that epitomize the American story but face distinct threats.
Chimney Rock may be the nation’s newest National Monument, but its history and cultural significance are long-standing. Between A.D. 925 and 1125, the Chacoans built a residential and ceremonial village and inhabited the Chimney Rock mesa, establishing the most northeastern and highest known Chacoan site. The Chacoans were great engineers, architects, and astronomers. One structure on the mesa, the Great House Pueblo, was likely used as an observatory for the rare Northern Lunar Standstill. During the standstill the moon aligns between Chimney Rock’s double spires. This extraordinary lunar alignment has earned Chimney Rock the nickname “America’s Stonehenge.”
The Chimney Rock National Monument will permanently preserve and protect the Forest Service’s 4,726-acre Chimney Rock Archaeological Area. Chimney Rock currently attracts approximately 12,000 visitors per year and is operated through a special use permit by the Chimney Rock Interpretive Association. National Monument designations historically have brought increased federal funding and resources to sites and surrounding areas, thereby providing for higher quality visitor facilities, more interpretation, better public education, and improved site stabilization. An economic study released by the National Trust in July confirmed that the economic value of Chimney Rock will likely double within five years of the designation.
This is only the third time that President Obama has exercised his authority under the Antiquities Act to designate a National Monument. He designated the 14,000 acre Fort Ord National Monument along the California Coast in April 2012, and Fort Monroe, a former army base in Virginia that was a safe haven for slaves during the Civil War, in November 2011.