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Celebrated Hovenweep monument expansion to go forward

Amount of acreage growth still unknown for prehistoric sites

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HOVENWEEP NATIONAL MONUMENT — In a political climate where the mere mention of "monument designations" bring cries of outrage, efforts are quietly being crafted to expand the "footprint" of Hovenweep National Monument in San Juan County, and no one is screaming.

"I think everyone is realizing what great resources San Juan County has, and they would like to see the area best managed for the county, the state and the country," said Corky Hays, the national monument's superintendent.

Established as part of the national park system in 1923, Hovenweep is home to six prehistoric Puebloan-era villages and contains some of the most dense, if not the most dense, sites of ancestral ruins of this nature, Hays said.

"Site density is greater here than almost any place in the world," she said. "It really is very, very impressive. You're not talking a stone's throw. … You literally cannot toss a stone without hitting another site."

The villages, much like bulbs on a string of Christmas lights, extend along 20 miles of mesa tops and canyons along the Utah/Colorado border, with the total monument occupying 485 acres.

San Juan County Commissioner Lynn Stevens said no specific amount of acreage for expansion has been settled on, nor has a method to accomplish that expansion.

"There are some pretty significant archaeological structures nearby that are not in the footprint of the monument," Stevens said, adding that the most of the adjacent land is privately owned.

Discussions have been held with one private landowner who has 2,400 acres, and Stevens said it would make little sense to have that parcel "unproductively fractured."

"The initiative to expand the monument's footprint is not meeting with disfavor," he said.

That could be accomplished with congressional legislation dubbed the San Juan County lands bill or through land trades that would involve a cooperative management agreement between the park service and the Bureau of Land Management.

Private land owners, for example, could trade out their land holdings for other acreage determined by some sort of formula, or parties could pursue conservation easements.

Protection of Hovenweep's cultural resources has caught the attention of Gov. Gary Herbert's Balanced Resources Council, where progress reports have been presented.

Hays said efforts directed at Hovenweep's expansion have been refreshingly cooperative.

"Everyone knows what an incredible place this area is, and they deeply love it," she said. "Even though it looks relatively empty today, and development has not had much of an impact, we know it is far different than when it was first formed in 1923. The whole concept is in the next 75 years or 100 years, future generations will be able to come and experience something similar."

e-mail: amyjoi@desnews.com