A bill to expand Yucca House National Monument passed the Senate Tuesday and awaits President Donald Trump’s signature.
The bill, called the Yucca House National Monument Expansion Act, will grow the monument southwest of Cortez from 33 acres to 193 acres. It passed the House in June.
U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton introduced the original bill (HB 1492), and U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner sponsored the bill in the Senate.
The small monument preserves an unexcavated 800-year-old ancestral Pueblo village, which includes 600 rooms, 100 kivas, several towers, multiple plazas, unexplained structures and one great kiva.
In 2015, Bernard and Nancy Karwick offered to donate a 160-acre parcel along the southeastern border of the monument to help preserve ancient cultural sites. But because of the significant boundary adjustment, the expansion must be facilitated through an act of Congress.
“I am incredibly pleased that we were able to facilitate this land donation to further protect the archaeological sites and cultural heritage of the Ancestral Pueblo,” Tipton said in a statement to The Journal.
”HR 1492 is an example of the importance of local support and bipartisanship when it comes to public lands designation,” he said.
The bill passed the House Natural Resources Committee, full House and Senate with broad bipartisan support.
“It’s only because of a strong bipartisan effort within the Colorado delegation that we are sending it to the president’s desk. I look forward to seeing the bill signed into law,” Tipton said.
The bill was passed in the Senate on unanimous consent, meaning there was no opposition.
“Yucca House National Monument has a rich history as a community center for the Ancestral Puebloan people, and it is one of our state’s most important archaeological sites,” said U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet in a news release. “We’re grateful to the landowner, Bernard Karwick, who through his incredible generosity and patience has made this monument expansion possible, protecting ancient dwellings and improving public access to the site for generations to come. I look forward to the president signing this bill into law.”
President Trump has 10 days to sign the bill into law. The expanded Yucca House National Monument would protect additional ancient sites and resolve a long-standing problem of access. Yucca House is managed by Mesa Verde National Park.
A 1936 historic easement provides public access and parking to the monument off County Road 20.5 within the private Box Bar Ranch.
In 2014, rancher Larry Pickens asked Montezuma County commissioners to abandon Road 20.5. He said tourist traffic and parking interfered with his farm and ranch operation.
But the request was denied because monument managers at Mesa Verde National Park pointed out they hold a 1936 permanent public road easement through the rancher’s land, and it can’t be abandoned unless another access point was created.
The monument expansion from the donated land allows the monument entrance and parking lot to be relocated to another point on Road 20.5 away from the ranch. The new entrance would have room for parking and might include a restroom, formalized trail and interpretive signs, park officials have stated.
Yucca House is relatively unknown. Although it is open to the public for no fee, few signs direct tourists to the monument, and most visitors find out about it only while visiting Mesa Verde, which offers tours of the 800-year-old village.
The monument’s website states visitors “may need to pass through livestock gates and close them behind you,” and that “no trespassing” signs do not apply to the county road.
Yucca House was established in 1919 by President Woodrow Wilson after an initial land donation by Henry Van Kleeck. It was expanded to 33 acres in 1996.