Site Stewardship

The Southwest Colorado Cultural Site Stewardship Program (CSSP) is a regional organization of volunteers supported by local communities, businesses, educational institutions, and the tribal and public land agencies of Southwest Colorado.  The San Juan Mountains Association established the Program in 2000, to meet a specific and urgent need for stewardship of cultural resources in the region. The CSSP operates in partnership with the San Juan National Forest and receives funding from the Forest, SJMA and private foundations.

Our heritage is at risk.  The Four Corners area has an array of historic and prehistoriccultural resources.  The region was at the heart of the Ancestral Puebloan culture, lay in the path of adventurers and traders along the Spanish Trail, boasted countless mining boomtowns during the mineral exploration and settlement of the West, and has been home to America’s ranching families. Each of these groups has a history rich in tradition and lore and together they represent our diverse and colorful heritage.

Today thousands of highly visible yet fragile sites can be found scattered among the area’s canyons, forests, mountains, and mesa tops.  Sadly, urban and rural development, increased recreational tourism, escalating site visitation, and a rise in the level of vandalism have put these irreplaceable treasures at risk.

Cultural resources command attention.  Regional community leaders, cultural resource managers, historians, archaeologists, and educators agree that the most effective way to stem losses and preserve our rich cultural heritage is through public education and community involvement. Toward this goal, the San Juan Mountains Association established the CSSP with a mission to train volunteers and educate local communities and individuals about cultural resource protection.  Stewards are pledged to assist in cultural resource conservation, protection, and education activities and they receive training  to monitor their adopted cultural resources for damage caused by vandals, improper visitation, and environmental impacts.

Over the years, approximately 250 stewards have been trained to monitor prehistoric and historic sites across the San Juan National Forest (SJNF) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). This partnership has allowed stewards to participate in monitoring, recording, mapping, and photographing important archaeological sites.  Places monitored include pre-puebloan sites and rockshelters, historic ranches, and ranger stations. For some stewards, ‘adopting’ a site has led them to learn more about the area’s history and prehistory as well as their site.

One such steward is Tom West. Tom has been a site steward for over nine years, and for the past four years he has monitored a large prehistoric site known as Reservoir Ruin.  Reservoir Ruin is located overlooking McPhee Reservoir near the town of Dolores.  The site is prominent and large with several room blocks, kivas, and midden areas. In addition to regularly monitoring the site, Tom has assisted archaeologist Kristie Arrington with archaeological mitigation measures for rodent disturbances at the site. 

Tom’s first-hand knowledge of the site, gathered from years of monitoring combined with a lifetime of scientific research, sparked his on-going research into the history of the site relative to the famous 1776 Dominguez and Escalante Expedition. We are grateful for Tom’s research into the history of Reservoir Ruin. 

For more information, check out his article In Search of the Small Settlement Observed by the Dominguez-Escalante Expedition on August 13, 1776

Additional information about the San Juan Mountains Association’s Cultural Site Stewardship Program is available from:
Ruth Lambert PhD
Cultural Program Director