What does a National Monument do for a community?

Danyelle Leentjes


As a long-time resident of Southwest Colorado I care deeply about the economic success of our region.

But new challenges and questions have begun to arise nationwide regarding the value of federal lands. Chimney Rock Interpretive Association, or CRIA, wants to make sure the public and our elected officials understand the direct and positive economic impacts that special designations, such as Chimney Rock National Monument, have had on local our community.

Chimney Rock, one of Colorado’s newest National Monuments, was a sacred place, a celestial observatory and a seasonal calendar for the Ancestral Puebloans over 1,000 years ago. The monument encompasses 4,726 acres, preserving hundreds of prehistoric sites that dot the landscape around the twin spires known as Chimney Rock and Companion Rock.  It is the most isolated and remote community connected to the Chaco culture and it is also the highest in elevation.

National monument designation came from the Obama Administration on Sept. 21, 2012.  The designation was made under the Antiquities Act with bi-partisan support from Colorado officials, Native Americans, local businesses and other stakeholders.  With the monument status came no state or federal funding, but what did come was more people and more money flowing into our communities

A study of the last two years looked at visits to the area to understand the economic impact. The underlying questions that this research addressed were: will national monument status increase the numbers of tourists to the region and what will the economic impacts be? What we have found is exciting, and telling. Since 2012 Chimney Rock has seen a 43 percent increase in visitors. As a small monument with limited parking and infrastructure, this is a big deal. With each yearly increase in visitation has come a corresponding boost to the area’s economy; since 2015 the monument has brought 1.5 million in additional dollars to the surrounding communities. Again, a big deal.

Those dollars aren’t just coming from Coloradoans traveling within the state. In fact, 75 percent of visitors are coming from other states like Texas and the east coast. Why does this matter? Because this small but mighty and extremely culturally significant area is now being appreciated by more and more people, and our small corner of the world is increasingly becoming a stop on the tourist map where people spend money, thus creating jobs.

One respondent was randomly selected and contacted by Information Services, Inc of Durango. Survey respondent Marika and her husband are ranchers in Wyoming. They have family in southern Colorado and were here this summer visiting. Exploring archaeological sites has been a family interest spanning several generations. In the past they had visited Mesa Verde and Chaco Canyon, but had not had the opportunity to see Chimney Rock. They promised themselves to return, and after 13 years they did.  While in the area they also enjoyed the Creede Repertory Theater, the Pagosa Hot Springs, and a drive to Durango, spreading their spending around Southwest Colorado. They would like to return for more adventures such as riding the train, and exploring more cultural sites in the larger area.

With the average daily expenditures of visitors to the monument being $145 and most visitors staying at least one night in the area, the numbers start to add up. These types of economic insights tell the story of the benefits of a monument designation. As a community we are proud of Chimney Rock National Monument and all that it has to offer visitors. We are also grateful for the designation and former President Obama’s statement made last summer, “I believe our national parks should reflect the full story of our country.” The cultural heritage and significance of the monument are crucially important to the American story, and as more people come to experience this area we will continue to promote and protect it for future generations.

Yet, some in Congress are starting to beat the anti-Antiquities Act drum louder and louder. We hope that Secretary of Agriculture-elect Sonny Perdue, whose confirmation hearing will be later this month, will commit to maintaining the Antiquities Act and uphold national monument designations.

To those who would discount the benefits of national monuments or try to overturn designations, we hope they will take the time to listen to this story of economic good news from our little corner of the world, and even better, come and visit. The association would like to thank Sens. Bennet and Gardner, and Rep. Tipton for their support of Chimney Rock National Monument. I urge them to continue to support improvements to the monument infrastructure, public lands, and the Antiquities Act.

Danyelle Leentjes is the administrative director for Chimney Rock Interpretive Association