WASHINGTON – Yucca House National Monument southwest of Cortez inched closer to growing six times larger this week after the deputy director of U.S. National Parks testified in the U.S. Senate in favor of a land donation to the monument.
Companion bills introduced by Colorado Republicans Rep. Scott Tipton and Sen. Cory Gardner in March would facilitate a 160-acre donation to Yucca House by Bernard and Nancy Karwick, adding to the monument’s current 33 acres.
Yucca House was home to ancestral Puebloans circa A.D. 1150. Unlike Mesa Verde National Park, which manages Yucca House, the site remains unexcavated today. The proposed expansion would include more archaeological sites to the east of the park’s current boundary.
“It’s a great resource, an antiquities-based resource,” Gardner said. “We can provide a look for future generations in the heritage of the past.”
The land donation would also help solve a problem with public access to Yucca House. Currently, the only public access to the park is at the end of County Road 20.5, which passes through private land.
Yucca House’s website warns that visitors will pass a “no trespassing” sign en route to the monument and “may need to pass through livestock gates and close them behind you.” The monument holds a public road easement through the land until the creation of another access point.
National Parks Deputy Director Dan Smith voiced his support for the bill at a Wednesday legislative hearing at the Senate Subcommittee on National Parks.
“Certainly, to have that access is important. It makes all the sense in the world,” Smith said. “The fact that there’s a willing donation, that’s very important, too.”
Smith suggested two technical amendments to the bill: add a reference to the updated map of the park, including the additional 160-acre parcel, and complete the land transfer before the parcel is officially added to Yucca House’s boundaries. He said completing the land transfer ahead of time is standard National Parks procedure.
U.S. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, who grew up in Rifle, also backs the bill, Smith said.
“The secretary of Interior is very aware of the bill because it’s his home state. He’s very supportive of it,” Smith said.
James Marshall is a student at American University in Washington, D.C., and an intern for The Durango Herald.