Helping protect a landscape rich in archaeological resources and working to document some of the millions of artifacts collected from that landscape are among the goals of a new nonprofit being launched in Montezuma County.
The Southwest Colorado Canyons Alliance is a grassroots foundation dedicated to preserving the area’s irreplaceable cultural and natural resources and to supporting Canyons of the Ancients National Monument west of Cortez, as well as the monument’s headquarters, the Anasazi Heritage Center near Dolores.
The monument and Heritage Center, both administered by the Bureau of Land Management, have long partnered with a number of nonprofits on different projects.
But what distinguishes the Southwest Colorado Canyons Alliance is its exclusive focus on the monument, according to Diane McBride, chair of the alliance’s steering committee.
“What makes Southwest Colorado Canyons Alliance unique is our commitment to fostering a community-wide appreciation and reverence for the cultural legacy left behind by the Ancestral Puebloan peoples here in Southwest Colorado,” McBride said. “This is a great opportunity for local people to be involved in public lands near their home.”
Southwest Colorado lies at the northern nexus of several ancient Native cultures, including the Hohokam culture of central and southeastern Arizona, the Mogollon peoples of New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas; and the Ancestral Puebloans of the Four Corners region.
Today, just west of Cortez, lie 180,000 acres of public lands that contain some of the highest concentrations of known archaeological sites in North America. Within this expanse sits Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, which contains an estimated 20,000 separate and distinct archaeological sites.
Protecting those sites will be one of the goals of the new foundation.
For the past decade, a site-stewardship program has been operated through the San Juan Mountains Association, McBride said. The program, which recruits volunteers to visit and protect cultural sites on the monument, will continue under Southwest Colorado Canyons Alliance.
“To do so, we will need to find similar avenues to maintain the program and expand learning and service opportunities for the stewards,” McBride said.
Canyons of the Ancients, the Anasazi Heritage Center, and similar organizations across the nation today often find themselves in a quandary: How to preserve and maintain America’s cultural heritage in a time of dwindling financial resources?
The BLM receives just $2.40 per acre in federal funding compared with approximately $32.50 in per-acre federal funding for lands under jurisdiction of the National Park Service, another agency under the Department of Interior, McBride said.
That’s where the alliance comes in, she said. Through a combination of volunteerism and fund-raising activities, it could provide much-needed support for the monument and boost the local economy to boot.
“By cultivating a preservation-minded community, new ideas will emerge, new people will come, and a healthy and vibrant economy will be the result,” said McBride.
Through the alliance, there will be numerous opportunities for the community to become involved with preservation efforts.
For instance, the Heritage Center is the largest museum in the BLM system and is the repository for more than 3 million artifacts.
Marietta Eaton, manager of the monument, said there is a backlog of artifacts still needing to be documented.
“The Anasazi Heritage Center houses objects that are central to our understanding of the region’s history,” Eaton said in an email. “In order for that information to be available for research, it is critical to document our collections in our database.
“The Southwest Colorado Canyons Alliance could provide much-needed support in either recruiting volunteers that could be trained to enter collections data, or helping to provide funding for those efforts. In addition, we are always gaining new material to be housed at the AHC and so the work there is ongoing in nature.”
The alliance will try to “fill the niches that our current partnerships do not fill,” Eaton also said.
McBride said that, in addition to revitalizing the site-stewardship program and addressing the backlog of artifacts, the alliance wants to develop new partnerships with other groups and entities in the area, as well as expanding those that already exist.
The alliance’s current steering committee is made up of experienced professionals in land conservation, archaeology, and other related disciplines, and includes McBride, her husband Bob, Dale Davidson, Joy Lee Davidson, Marcie Ryan, Marty Costos, Nancy Evans, and Janet Lever-Wood.
So far the committee has already accomplished several key tasks, including identifying needs set by the monument and the Heritage Center, and applying for 501(c)(3) status.
The committee has also organized a gathering Saturday, Feb. 9, at 2 p.m. at the Heritage Center, to seek board members and donors. More than 250 invitations were sent out to business leaders and citizens in the communities of Towaoc, Cortez, and Mancos.
The event is open to anyone interested in helping the organization move forward, Mc- Bride said.
She said the alliance needs people to serve on its board of directors (there is an application process); to work with various committees addressing immediate needs such as helping complete the final steps toward 501 (c)(3) status and prioritizing next projects; and to make tax-exempt financial contributions.
Anyone interested in becoming a board member or donating but unable to attend the Feb. 9 meeting may contact McBride at 970-560-1643.