SHIPROCK — Legends abound among Navajo people about their sacred Shiprock pinnacle.
Called Tse' Bit' Ai in the Diné language, the 1,800-foot peak is at the core of Navajo culture, and the rock soon may be the focus of a state park.
"It's no surprise to Navajo people that Shiprock is a tremendously significant resource," said David Simon, director of New Mexico State Parks, to state Indian Affairs Committee on Monday. The committee, an interim legislative council, met in Shiprock to hear an update of the proposed state park and tour the area surrounding the rock.
"It meets all the criteria to be designated as a state park," Simon said of the site. "The pinnacle is an extremely important cultural site. It is very much worthy of our respect and protection."
Monday's meeting came six months after the 2008 legislative session ended. During the session, Rep. Ray Begaye, D-Shiprock, introduced a bill calling for a feasibility study on the proposed park. Begaye sits on the Indian Affairs Committee.
Simon presented the results of the $15,000 study Monday, along with recommendations for protecting and preserving the rock. The study will be released to the public this week, he said, and New Mexico State Parks will accept public comments for 60 days.
The state's recommendation is for the Navajo Nation to establish a park while partnering with the state for design, development and management assistance. The park would be listed alongside other state parks in tourism
It also would be part of the Grand Circle of Parks, Simon said. Thirteen state, tribal and national parks are located within 150 miles of Shiprock and draw an annual visitation of more than 130,000 people.
Simon called the pinnacle "one of the most important features in the country," but said development may be complex.
"There are unique issues to be resolved because it's on tribal lands," he said. "All of them can be resolved, but they will have to be addressed through the legislature's direction and a joint agreement with the Navajo Nation."
A bill calling for a state and tribal agreement in the creation and maintenance of the park may appear on the legislative agenda as early as January, Begaye said.
"One of the sad things about the Shiprock pinnacle is that there's no real limits to what people can do," he said. "We have accidents out here and parties with alcohol. If we made this into a park, we would have a sense of belonging, of ownership, of business development. Without a strong plan, this area will deteriorate."
Ideally, the park would include a visitors center, picnic tables, restrooms and aerial view facilities, Begaye said. Funding also would go toward road improvements. Other attractions include maintained trails, guided tours and designated areas for bird watching or photography.
The estimated price tag for the park is $3 million, Simon said. The cost goes up $125,000 per year if the Nation opts for state employees to help staff the park.
The Navajo Parks and Recreation Department already is pushing for preservation and partnership, Manager Martin Begaye said.
"The community wants to see it as at least a state park because of the money it would bring to the community," he said.
Some residents are even calling for a national monument, Martin Begaye said. The feasibility study revealed that communities with national parks bring in between $1.6 and $40 million annually.
"When you say tribal park, that sounds like it's for tribal members," he said. "If you say national park, a lot more visitors would come to the area."
The proposed park is not without opposition.
Development of the area would encroach on grazing lands, Ray Begaye said. A park also would increase traffic to roads already in need of repair.
Further opposition comes from surrounding chapters who contend the pinnacle does not lie within the Shiprock Chapter's boundaries. The Sanostee, Red Valley and Gadii'ahi chapters all claim some ownership of the rock.
"What we're doing is grappling with the boundary lines," Ray Begaye said. "Legally, we still have some questions and we have a way to go."
The Indian Affairs Committee hopes to hear a full feasibility report by the end of November, leaving time to draft legislation before January.
Alysa Landry: firstname.lastname@example.org