WASHINGTON — President Obama designated the Chimney Rock archeological site in southwestern Colorado as a national monument Friday.
The designation is expected to do more than elevate the status of Chimney Rock, an archeological site best known for the hundreds of ruins built by the ancestors of the modern Pueblo Indians and the lunar standstill that takes place between its twin spires every 18.6 years.
It is also expected to bring more tourists to the four corners region, which contains counties with some of the highest jobless rates in the state.
“This will create awareness and hopefully lots of jobs,” Rep. Scott Tipton (R-Cortez) said in an interview last week.
“The (designation) will preserve and protect the site and drive tourism, drawing more visitors to the region and the state and bringing more dollars into the local economy,” Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) said in a statement.
Chimney Rock has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1970. Its elevated status will increase its size from 4,1000 to 4,726 acres. It will also have a new manager, the U.S. Forest Service, which oversees the San Juan National Forest in which it is located.
For years, Colorado lawmakers sought to make the area a national monument without success.
Tipton’s predecessor, Democratic Rep. John Salazar, sponsored a bill that was unable to get out of committee in 2010.
Tipton’s proposal to designate the site was approved by the House of Representatives approved in May. But Bennet’s version of the bill was unable to clear the Senate, leaving the measure in limbo.
Bennet blamed an unnamed minority of senators from blocking his bill. Tipton blamed the Democratic-controlled Senate, citing Senate Majoriy Leader Harry Reid’s inability to put the measure up for a vote. “He said he just couldn’t get it scheduled. Why Sen. Reid couldn’t get it scheduled I don’t know, but it’s typical of this Senate,” he said.
President Obama used his authority under the 1906 Antiquities Act to declare the site a national monument. His decision does not end the political quarreling over its new elevated status, however.
A House Republican official questioned the decision’s timing in a presidential-election year. “This just gives (Obama) more positive press in a swing state. The House passed the bill in May, and the President waits till September to designate it. You gotta wonder,” the official said.
The Obama administration also awarded a new U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to Denver in July. A White House spokesperson was unavailable for comment.
Funding additions or improvements to Chimney Rock remains up in the air. The Secretary of Agriculture is required to come up with a detailed plan within three years to manage the site, which will include issues such as access for hikers and drivers.
Chimney Rock is the 102nd national monument. Of those, six others are in Colorado, including Hovenweep, the Canyons of the Ancients, and Yucca House, each of which are in the four-corners region.