Protecting Cultural Resources Good for Economy

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Protecting Colorado’s highly endangered ancient human landscape from development and destruction makes sense from a cultural and scientific standpoint. Now a new report shows that it's absolutely vital for a healthy economy as well.

The report, "The Economic Contributions of Cultural Resources in Southwest Colorado (2016)," (PDF) shows that southwest Colorado's cultural resources—including Mesa Verde National Park and Canyon of the Ancients National Monument—generated 1,340 jobs and nearly $113.6 million in economic output in 2016.

“Cultural resources are a large economic driver in this region,” says Crow Canyon Archaeological Center President and CEO Deborah Gangloff. “This is especially true as it is a base industry, meaning that it brings outside money into the area.”

National monument designation or inclusion into the National Park system protects these fragile and culturally vital landscapes from potentially destructive looting and energy development, while also unlocking their economic potential for the benefit of local communities that might otherwise struggle without the influx of tourism dollars.

Over 712,000 people visited southwest Colorado's cultural sites in 2016, generating more than 1,000 jobs and contributing nearly $85 million in economic output to the region.

The economic benefits of protected cultural sites like national monuments and national parks go well beyond tourism, though. Previous research has shown that conserving public lands helps to safeguard and highlight amenities that draw new residents and businesses to surrounding communities and diversify local economies, as well as sustaining property values and attracting new investment. In addition, the cultural resource management industry is also highly sustainable because the focus is on preserving the cultural resources tourists come to see.

“It’s clear that public lands have enhanced this region’s economy in many ways, while also fostering an appreciation of both contemporary and ancient native cultures”, says Gangloff.

The report was prepared for Crow Canyon Archaeological Center by Durango-based Information Services, Inc., and covers the Region 9 Economic Development District of Southwest Colorado, which includes Archuleta, Dolores, La Plata, Montezuma, and San Juan counties. This region includes Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, Chimney Rock National Monument, Hovenweep National Monument, Mesa Verde National Park, the Ute Mountain Tribal Park, and Yucca House National Monument, as well as the Anasazi Heritage Center, the Southern Ute Cultural Center and Museum, and the Crow Canyon Archaeological Center.

While the report dealt specifically with the five-county region of southwest Colorado, it can be used as a blueprint to show the massive economic contribution of national monuments, national parks, and other protected areas in other nearby regions with high densities of cultural resources—including southern Utah, northern Arizona, and northern New Mexico.

“We hope the administration and other decision-makers fully appreciate the economic value of cultural resources on our public lands as they determine the fate of our national monuments," says Gangloff.

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