Monumental changes at Chimney Rock
 The familiar twin spires of Chimney Rock have hit the big time. Last Friday, President Barack Obama signed into law the Chimney Rock National Monument. The designation provides permanent protection to the 4,700-acre area, which is located on the San Juan National Forest, west of Pagosa Springs.

Using power grated under the 1906 Antiquities Act, Obama cited the significance of Chimney Rock’s “spiritual, historic and scientific resources” in signing the declaration.

More than 200 people gathered at Chimney Rock on Sept. 21 to celebrate the proclamation, including Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, who was born and raised in the San Luis Valley.

“Today is about celebrating,” Salazar said in his address to the crowd, which included area tribal and civic leaders as well as Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo.

Chimney Rock is believed to have been settled more than 1,000 years ago by the Chaco civilization. In addition to being home to one of the largest communities of the Pueblo II era (900-1150 A.D.), Chimney Rock also contains the highest elevation ceremonial “great house” in the Southwest.
Aside from its nearly 200 archaeological sites, it is known for its unique archaeoastronomy, geological and biological features. Several desert plants not seen outside the Sonoran Desert, including a species of cholla cactus, grow in Chimney Rock and are believed to have been cultivated by the Ancestral Puebloans.

Today, descendants of the Ancestral Puebloans visit the site for spiritual and traditional purposes.

“It is a living landscape that shapes those who visit it and brings people together across time,” stated Obama in the declaration. “Chimney Rock offers a valuable window into the cultural developments of the Pueblo II era and affords opportunities to understand how geology, ecology and archaeology interrelate.”

In 1970, Chimney Rock was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. However, it was not considered for monument status until a few years ago when Rep. John Salazar, D-Colo., introduced a bill in the house. After unseating Salazar in 2010, Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., took up the cause. Sen. Bennet introduced a similar bill in the Senate in 2010. While Tipton’s bill passed the House earlier this year, Bennet’s failed to clear due to infighting.

Last April, Bennet, Tipton and Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., decided to circumvent the stalemate by asking Obama for executive action under the Antiquities Act. The request was further driven by broad bipartisan support of the surrounding communities.

“I’m a strong believer that this and all public lands designations be locally driven,” said Tipton last Friday. “I’m ultimately pleased to see Chimney Rock National Monument becoming a reality.”

In addition to affording permanent protection, the monument designation is expected to eventually draw some 24,000 visitors and generate upwards of $1.2 million for the area. “The designation will give Chimney Rock the prestige and protection it deserves, and will increase exposure to the region,” said Tipton.

The Forest Service now has three years to devise a travel and management plan for the new monument.

City honored as multi modal model
The City of Durango’s efforts to improve alternative transportation have gained statewide acclaim.

Last week at the Colorado Association of Transit Agencies’ (CASTA) conference in Grand Junction, Durango Transit was awarded “Transit System of the Year” in the medium-sized market (10 to 25 buses). The award is given to municipalities that exhibit “outstanding programs or projects.”

Durango Transit was recognized for consistent increases in ridership, 19 percent so far in 2012; events to engage the public, such as Clean Commute Week; and successful partnerships with local employers such as Mercy Medical Center and Fort Lewis College.

The award was accepted by the City of Durango’s Transit and Parking Operation Manager Kent Harris and Multi Modal Administrator Amber Blake, who credited Harris for the success.

 “The success of our transit system is in large part due to the vision and motivation of Kent Harris,” she said.

Additionally, Blake was awarded Transit Employee of the Year for her work on the city’s newly completed Multi Modal Master Plan, which was adopted by City Council in July. She was also applauded for increasing federal grant funding and improving management. “I am humbled to be recognized by my peers for the success of our multi-modal program,” Blake said.

Durango celebrates freedom to read
What you don’t read can hurt you, according to American Booksellers Association Foundation for Free Expression, which will celebrate the 30th annual Banned Books Week on Sept. 29 - Oct. 6.

To mark the occasion locally, a series of events are planned, including visits from national authors, a virtual read out and a censorship panel, held in conjunction with Maria’s Bookshop and the Durango Public Library’s Literary Festival.

Featuring Chris Finan, president of the American Booksellers Foundation and author of From the Palmer Raids to the Patriot Act: A History of the Fight for Free Speech in America, events kick off Saturday from 2-4 p.m. with the censorship panel at the library. The panel will also include young adult author Ellen Hopkins, Library Assistant Director Sandy Irwin, and Fort Lewis College Media Studies Professor Leslie Blood.

Finan also will appear at a Censorship Chat at FLC’s Reed Library from 10:15-11:30 a.m. Monday. Later in the day, from 6:30 - 7:30, he will host a booksigning/discussion at Maria’s, 960 Main.

Banned Books Week was launched in 1982 in response to a surge in challenges to books in schools, bookstores and libraries. More than 11,300 books have been challenged since 1982. According to the American Library Association, there were 326 challenges reported to the Office of Intellectual Freedom in 2011 including such well known titles as: The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins; My Mom’s Having A Baby! A Kid’s Month-by-Month Guide to Pregnancy, by Dori Hillestad Butler; The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie; Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley; Gossip Girl, by Cecily Von Ziegesar; and the ever-present To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee.

Banned Books Week will once again feature a Virtual Read-Out of banned and challenged books, where readers from across the United States are asked to create two-minute videos reading from their favorite banned books. The videos will be uploaded to a special YouTube channel. Interested participants can email for more information.

“While we recognize that the issues surrounding challenges to the inclusion of certain books in school curricula and library shelves are complicated and multifaceted, we are unwavering in our support of every person’s freedom to read,” said Libby Cowles, outreach coordinator for Maria’s. Cowles said people are invited to check out the store’s banned book display, including some potential surprises. “We guarantee a good conversation will ensue,” she said.

– Missy Votel