Bypassing Congress on Chimney Rock
Last week, President Barack Obama officially designated Chimney Rock Archaeological Area as a national monument. He did so with the support of Colorado’s two Democratic senators and Republican Congressman Scott Tipton, whose district includes Chimney Rock.
Additionally, groups such as the Archuleta County commissioners, the city of Pagosa Springs and the Pagosa Springs Area Chamber of Commerce all urged Obama to use the Antiquities Act to give further protection to the ancient astronomical features at Chimney Rock.
About the only support the monument didn’t receive was in the U.S. Senate, where partisan gridlock bollixed up Chimney Rock legislation for the second straight year.
That shouldn’t be an unfamiliar story to people in the Grand Valley who are familiar with the history of how Colorado National Monument received its official designation.
More than a century ago, people in Mesa County pushed to have the red-rock canyons southwest of Grand Junction named a national park. Led by the indefatigable John Otto, and joined by the chamber of commerce and a variety of community leaders, they convinced their congressional delegation to push the issue in Congress. But that attempt failed. The area wasn’t protected until President William Howard Taft designated Colorado National Monument in 1911.
In the case of Chimney Rock, the first legislation to attempt to get it designated as a national monument was introduced in 2009. This year, Tipton successfully shepherded national-monument legislation through the House for Chimney Rock. Bennet introduced similar legislation in the Senate, with the support of Udall. But the bill didn’t even make it out of committee.
Earlier this year, Bennet, Udall and Tipton wrote a letter to Obama, urging him to use his executive authority to designate Chimney Rock as a national monument. Bennet said he personally encouraged the president to do so.
There’s little question Chimney Rock deserves the additional recognition and protection that comes with the designation. The area near the rock formation was occupied by ancestors of the Pueblo Indians between 925 A.D. and 1125 A.D., and it is still significant to a number of Indian tribes in the region. It’s also astronomically unique. “Every 18 1/2 years, the moon aligns between the twin sandstone spires on the Mesa,” according to the Pagosa Springs Area Chamber of Commerce.
Congratulations to the folks in Archuleta County and their congressional officials for finally winning the designation they sought for Chimney Rock. It shows what can be accomplished when community leaders, political leaders of both parties and business people are united in their efforts.
It is unfortunate that the Senate couldn’t accomplish what the House did and pass the measure itself.