Chimney Rock gets national monument status

President Barack Obama declared Chimney Rock Archaeological Area a national monument Friday, ending an effort that was three years in the making.

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo. attended the ceremony along with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, as well as local and tribal leaders to celebrate the Presidential Proclamation designating Chimney Rock a national monument. President Obama signed the proclamation earlier Friday.

“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 archeological significance. The president’s proclamation will help preserve, protect, and restore the site and will help boost Colorado’s tourism at a critical time.”

Obama used his executive power to declare the monument from Washington, D.C., and two of his cabinet secretaries attended the ceremony Friday at the new monument between Bayfield and Pagosa Springs.

Colorado’s members of Congress have tried since 2009 to get the monument established.

The archaeological area safeguards the ruins of a thousand-year-old great house connected to the Chaco Culture of present-day New Mexico. The settlement also is a sort of lunar calendar, where every 18.6 years, the moon rises between the two spires of the famous rock formation.

Status as a national monument will raise Chimney Rock’s profile and ensure protection of the 4,700-acre site.

Bennet, Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, and Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., wrote a letter to Obama this summer, urging him to consider declaring the monument after their bills stalled amid partisan squabbling in Congress.

Tipton sponsored and passed a bill in the House to establish the monument. It differs from Bennet’s by forbidding extra money to be spent on the monument.

Joe Hanel contributed to this report.