The Watch

Chaco Culture National Historical Park

McKinley County, New Mexico, United States

1996 World Monuments Watch

The Chaco Culture National Historical Park contains the greatest concentration of prehistoric ruins in the United States. The Ancestral Puebloans, who inhabited much of the southwest from A.D. 300-1500, had their center at Chaco. The Chacoan system collapsed in the 12th century, probably because a 50-year drought created an environment hostile to an agrarian economy. Today Chaco Canyon faces both natural and man-made threats. Runoff from the region's frequent thunderstorms and from snowfall erodes the ruins. The accumulation of sand in masonry walls encourages the growth of small plants, the roots of which break apart masonry joints. Increased visitation also contributes to the deterioration of Chaco, and the development of better roads will only exacerbate this threat. A large part of the problem faced by Chaco Canyon and the outlying sites is the absence of a comprehensive strategic plan for presentation and protection and a lack of full cooperation among those organizations having jurisdiction.

Since the Watch

In 1999 the National Parks Conservation Association named Chaco Culture National Historical Park to a list of the ten most endangered national parks, and in a 2007 report the Association remarked that the park lacks the funding to replace retiring restoration experts with new full-time professionals and struggles to meet visitor demand for services. The park's natural environment has also been threatened by the proposal to construct a new coal-fired power plant at a distance of approximately 50 miles. Since 2009, the National Park Service has undertaken the effort to update the management plan for the park, which dates from 1984. Public input has been invited, and the new management plan is set to take effect within the next several years. Meanwhile, private organizations like the Friends of Chaco have mobilized to protect the park. February 2011

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