Thank you to the Montezuma County commissioners for voting not to block a land donation that will allow improved access to the tiny Yucca House National Monument southwest of Cortez.
Thanks are due as well to Bernard and Nancy Karwick for donating the 160-acre parcel, and to Larry Pickens for hosting, albeit involuntarily, traffic that was inconvenient for his ranching operation. The National Park Service held an easement to Yucca House through Pickens’ land that cannot be abandoned unless another access is established.
County support is needed for congressional approval of the land donation. The commissioners have been reluctant to sign on because the donation would transfer that 160 acres from private, taxpaying ownership to the Park Service. That’s a value shared by many of their constituents, because expansion of public lands concentrates the tax burden on a shrinking number of private properties.
But the Karwicks should be allowed to dispose of their property as they see fit, and returning Pickens’ land to his sole control – while providing continued public access to Yucca House – is a generous, civic-minded purpose. The unique circumstances need not set a broader precedent for future federal acquisition of local private lands.
In many cases, public lands drive tourism revenue, and that is certainly the case for archaeological resources in Montezuma County. On its own, Yucca House cannot be said to attract many out-of-town tourists to the area, but its archaeological value remains intact and it provides intrepid visitors with an up-close view of one of the mysterious rock structures that perplexed the region’s Anglo pioneers.
The first 9.6-acre parcel that encompasses much of the site was donated to the federal government in 1919 by original landowner Henry van Kleeck, and, recognizing its archaeological significance, Woodrow Wilson declared it a national monument that year.
Hallie Ismay donated an additional 24 acres in the late 1990s, after six decades of successful public-private stewardship of the area.
The site is unexcavated and remains available for future research.
Although this improvement has been a long time in the making, and still isn’t a done deal, it’s an all-around win. All who cooperated in getting it to this point deserve thanks and recognition.