Colorado city, county see different effects of monument

Cortez mayor says national monument boosts tourism, but official says Montezuma County sees few economic benefits

Hannah Grover
A hoodoo stands along the Sand Canyon Trail at the Canyon of the Ancients National Monument in Cortez, Colo., on April 27.
  • Cortez Mayor Karen Sheek says tourism is central to the town's economy.
  • Montezuma County official James Dietrich says tourism has not make a large difference in the county budget.
  • Dietrich said the county does not have a position on whether the monument should be repealed.

FARMINGTON — While the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument provides economic benefits to the city of Cortez, Colo., the surrounding Montezuma County may not be as impacted by the presence of the 17-year-old monument.

The national monument is one of dozens currently under review after President Donald Trump signed an executive order asking Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke to review presidential national monument designations that were created using the Antiquities Act starting with the designation of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in 1996. Zinke has to review all national monuments larger than 100,000 acres designated in the last two decades.

Cortez Mayor Karen Sheek said the city relies on tourism generated by sites like Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, and the nearby Hovenweep National Monument and Mesa Verde National Park. Hovenweep is not under review because it was designated in 1923 and consists of less than 1,000 acres.

She said Cortez receives lodgers tax money from people staying in hotels, and the visitors who stop in the city while visiting nearby sites have provided economic diversity to a city that traditionally relied on the energy industry and agriculture.

"From my perspective, it would be difficult to have (Canyons of the Ancients) shut down," Sheek said.

However, the surrounding county has not seen tourism make a large difference in its budget, according to James Dietrich, Natural Resources Planning and Public Lands Coordinator for Montezuma County.

Unlike the city of Cortez, which has seen increasing revenues from sales tax, Montezuma County does not collect sales tax. The majority of its revenue comes from property tax. It also collects revenue from the oil and gas industry.

Sheri and George Michaels hike  the Sand Canyon Trail at the Canyon of the Ancients National Monument in Cortez, Colo., on April 27.

The monument proclamation allowed continued oil and gas exploration and grazing inside Canyons of the Ancients. But Dietrich said it has become more difficult — especially for companies involved in carbon dioxide (CO2) extraction, which is mined for use in the carbonated beverage and food industries, and to aid in extraction of oil — to continue working within the monument's boundaries, and some conflict has emerged surrounding grazing allotments.

The CO2 industry has a large impact on the county budget. In December, The Journal reported the Kinder Morgan CO2 industry's property tax made up nearly half of the county's budget in fiscal year 2015.

Dietrich said the county does not have a position on whether the monument should be repealed. Instead, he hopes the review provides county officials with a chance to address concerns about how the monument is managed. He said the Bureau of Land Management, which oversees the national monument, does not have adequate funding to accomplish its management tasks at Canyons of the Ancients. Dietrich said the county also will weigh in on problems it has seen with the multiple-use aspect of the national monument, including energy development and grazing allotments.

An ancestral Puebloan archaeological site is pictured April 27 along the Sand Canyon Trail at the Canyon of the Ancients National Monument in  Cortez, Colo.

Dietrich said there are also some safety concerns the county has with the national monument in regard to the popular Sand Canyon trail head. The parking lot, located off County Road G, has a rough, sandstone surface that requires high clearance vehicles in some places. Additionally, the lot is small and frequently is unable to meet demand.

Dietrich said these factors often cause some tourists to park along the narrow county road adjoining the lot, which has a relatively high speed limit.

The troubles with the parking lot have not gone unnoticed. In December, the Journal reported a newly hired supervisory park ranger planned on working to reduce the demand for parking by improving access to the monument.

Dietrich said a monument repeal would likely have very little impact on Montezuma County.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652.