A Good Opportunity to Protect Southwest Colorado’s Cultural Legacy

Op-Ed by CPANP Member Jane Anderson as published in The Durango Herald

Saturday, April 16, 2016

This is National Park Week. It is, especially in this centennial year of the National Park Service, a time to celebrate and reflect on our nation’s cultural and natural heritage designated as national parks, monuments, historic sites and other protected places.

It is also an occasion to look forward to the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for parks, especially here in Southwest Colorado.

The Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks, composed of retired, former and current Park Service employees, is concerned about preserving the extraordinary qualities that our region’s national parks and monuments offer. Those of us fortunate to live nearby are privileged to reside in an area so rich, not just in its rugged, natural beauty, but in its cultural story as well.

Places like Chimney Rock, Canyons of the Ancients, Hovenweep and Yucca House national monuments, and the centerpiece of our region, spectacular Mesa Verde National Park – also a UNESCO World Heritage Site – are important not only to Native Americans and archaeologists, but to all people. These special places are connected to one another, and to thousands of other sites within and outside of Southwest Colorado, through the shared legacy of the ancient Puebloan civilization that once inhabited this part of the world. And it is noteworthy that these sites and this landscape are still parts of living cultures revered as sacred to many southwestern Native American tribes.

Thanks to our remote and largely rural characteristics, locals and more than 500,000 annual visitors to Southwest Colorado’s national parks and monuments, get to experience our region in much the same way as ancient peoples once did: Prized scenic vistas from Mesa Verde National Park remain unmarred by industrial development or other significant visual intrusions; night skies remain dark and starry because of low levels of nighttime activity and light pollution, as evidenced by Hovenweep’s certification as a Dark Sky Park by the International Dark Sky Association; and there are many public lands and protected places we can escape to in order to observe only natural, wild sounds – or even quiet.

Our park management experience also tells us that protecting natural, cultural and scenic resources both in and adjacent to parks is crucial to ensuring the sustainability of an area’s tourism-based economy. The year 2014 set a record for tourism in both La Plata and Montezuma counties, generating over $273 million and $85 million in travel spending, respectively, in those counties. Spending tied to Mesa Verde accounted for more than $60 million of this. In 2016, because of the centennial, many parks are expecting record visitation.

With the National Park Service turning 100 this year, we should be seizing every available opportunity to ensure that Southwest Colorado’s exceptional parks and monuments remain protected into the next century.

One such opportunity is the prospect of creating a more deliberate approach to gas and oil development near protected places and cultural sites in our region through master lease planning. The Tres Rios Field Office of the Bureau of Land Management is currently considering initiating such a planning process, which could have dramatic benefits to the natural and cultural qualities within Mesa Verde and numerous, associated cultural sites. The coalition strongly supports moving ahead with a plan that takes into account lands in both Montezuma and La Plata counties, and the irreplaceable resources they contain.

Master lease plans implemented in Colorado and neighboring states have shown to balance development, where appropriate, with providing safeguards for scenic vistas, soundscapes and night skies, as well as for culturally valuable sites and sensitive natural resources, from the unintended impacts of gas and oil development. A master lease plan is one among many tools that would contribute to preserving those qualities that help connect the past to the present in Southwest Colorado’s protected places, and across this distinctive cultural landscape.

If you haven’t visited one of Southwest Colorado’s parks or monuments lately, the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks encourages you to do so; and when you do, please consider how what is happening outside the park’s boundaries could affect experiences inside the park – today and for the next hundred years.

During National Park Week from April 16-24, the Park Service is offering free admission to national parks, including Mesa Verde.

Jane Anderson is a member of the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks. She retired from the National Park Service in 2015 after a career that included numerous assignments, including serving as Project Manager for rehabilitation of the Chapin 5 Fire and Save America’s Treasures at Mesa Verde. She currently lives in Dolores, Colorado.

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This page last modified: April 17, 2016 @ 2:00 pm