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Colorado gets new national monument thanks to President Obama; will Washington be next?

Earlier today, with the stroke of a pen, President Barack Obama transformed one of Colorado’s most beloved and best known sights – previously protected as Chimney Rock Archaeological Area – into Chimney Rock National Monument, exercising his authority under the Antiquities Act of 1906.

The move brings the site one step closer to the coveted status of national park, which can only be conferred by an act of Congress. (Not surprisingly, national monuments tend to be the best candidates for new national parks, considered to be the crown jewels of America’s national parks system).

In a proclamation signed by the President, the Obama administration laid out the reasons why the site is worth protecting:

The Chimney Rock site in southwestern Colorado incorporates spiritual, historic, and scientific resources of great value and significance.  A thousand years ago, the vast Chaco civilization was drawn to the site’s soaring massive rock pinnacles, Chimney Rock and Companion Rock, that rise hundreds of feet from the valley floor to an elevation of 7,600 feet.  High atop ancient sandstone formations, Ancestral Pueblo People built exquisite stone buildings, including the highest ceremonial “great house” in the Southwest.

This landscape, encompassing both Chimney Rock and Companion Rock, and known today as Chimney Rock, holds deep spiritual significance for modern Pueblo and tribal communities and was one of the largest communities of the Pueblo II era (900 1150 A.D.).  The Chimney Rock site also includes nationally significant archaeology, archaeoastronomy, visual and landscape characteristics, and geological and biological features, as well as objects of deep cultural and educational value.

A celebration is being held today at Chimney Rock to commemorate its designation as a national monument. Senator Michael Bennet, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack are slated to speak.

Ahead of the celebration, Bennet issued a statement marking the occasion.

“This is the culmination of years of hard work and team work by Coloradans who recognize Chimney Rock for the spectacular site that it is,” Bennet said.  “When the local communities asked me to engage in these efforts, I was thrilled to take their message to Washington. Chimney Rock is more than an amazing geologic formation. It is full of extraordinary cultural, historical and archaeological significance. The president’s proclamation will help preserve, protect, and restore the site and will help boost Colorado’s tourism at a critical time.”

The All Indian Pueblo Council also applauded the announcement. Chandler Sanchez, the group’s chairman, commended the President for establishing the monument.

“The story of my tribe, the Pueblo of Acoma, and our history is intimately connected to Chimney Rock. This place is still sacred to my people, and we are glad to see it will now be protected for our children and grandchildren,” he said.

Chimney Rock is only the third national monument President Obama has created during his first term in office. But hopefully it won’t be the last.

Senator Maria Cantwell and Representative Rick Larsen of our state are leading the charge to get President Obama to agree to create a new national monument in Washington, in the San Juan Islands, that would protect nearly a thousand acres of land already owned by the federal government and currently administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

Cantwell and Larsen, along with Senator Patty Murray, have written to President Obama in support of the proposed monument.

The BLM lands include several dozen sites on major islands like San Juan and Orcas, along with all of Patos Island and substantial tracts on Stuart and Lopez Islands.

More than one hundred local businesses have endorsed the effort to get the county’s BLM lands protected as a national conservation area or national monument. All that is needed now is for the president to act.

We at NPI strongly encourage the White House to take up this matter as soon as possible. There’s no reason to wait. Protecting public lands is one of the most important legacies that a president can leave. We would not have the great national parks system we have today were it not for the courage of past presidents like Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, or Jimmy Carter.

The Antiquities Act exists so that presidents can bypass legislative gridlock and protect important places like the seventy-five plus sites in the San Juans under BLM jurisdiction. There’s no disputing that our current Congress is among the most ineffective and unresponsive Congresses in American history.

By creating a San Juans National Monument, President Obama could ensure that some of our state’s most beautiful shoreline is preserved for future generations.


  1. Zack
    Posted September 23rd, 2012 at 4:05 PM | Permalink

    Chimney Rock National Historic Site is a different site in Nebraska. The site President Obama made into a National Monument was formerly Chimney Rock Archaeological Area in Colorado.

  2. Andrew
    Posted September 24th, 2012 at 8:34 AM | Permalink

    Thanks for the correction. Fixed that reference.