A long-standing access issue at Yucca House National Monument is one step closer to being resolved.
On Monday, Montezuma County commissioners agreed to support a key land donation to the monument so the public access point could be relocated off a ranchers’ land.
“It was a principled decision. We’re happy about it,” said Cliff Spencer, superintendent of Mesa Verde National Park, which manages Yucca House.
The backstory provides some context.
Back in 2014, rancher Larry Pickens asked the county to abandon Road 20.5, which accesses Yucca House, because tourist traffic and parking interfered with his farming operation.
But the request was denied because monument managers pointed out they hold a permanent public road easement through the rancher’s land, and it can’t be abandoned unless another access point was created.
Then conservationists Bernard and Nancy Karwick offered to donate to the park service a 160-acre parcel adjacent to Yucca House, allowing for a new access point. The donation was seen by the county as a solution.
Expanding Yucca House on that scale requires congressional approval, and a bill was in the works.
But in 2017, the commissioners – feeling annoyed about federal agencies obtaining private land and taking it off the tax rolls – passed a No Net Loss of Private Lands ordinance.
The ordinance states that if a federal land agency acquires private land to be put in the public domain, an equal amount of acreage of federal land should be offered back to the private sector.
The commissioners’ main complaint has been purchases by Canyons of the Ancients National Monument of 12,000 acres of private inholdings and archaeological-rich bordering land from what has been “willing sellers.”
Montezuma County is about 40 percent federal land and 33 percent Ute Mountain Ute reservation, a sovereign nation, leaving just 27 percent in private hands.
The No Net Loss policy created a “standstill,” on the Yucca House issue, Spencer said, because Congress and potential bill sponsors needed county support to approve the land donation that would enlarge the monument.
But on Monday, the commissioners recognized that their original support for the land donation happened before the No Net Loss policy donation, and they voted 3-0 to support it.
“We’ve been critical of the federal government being obstructionist. Now we are doing the same, so I make the motion we allow the land donation process to continue like we had already agreed to,” said commissioner Larry Don Suckla.
The secluded Yucca House National Monument was established in 1919, and is surrounded by a ranch. The 800-year old, unexcavated pueblo village has the ruins of 600 rooms, 100 kivas, several towers, multiple plazas, unexplained structures, and one great kiva.
With the approval of the land donation, a proposed new access point and parking lot would be located farther down Road 20.5 and off the ranch property.