Administrative History
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Chapter III:

Clinton B. Anderson Memorial Highway

The expansion of Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument was negotiated in a quiet collegial manner between federal agencies and with participation by the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish. The road from Sapillo Creek to the monument, on the other hand, was the clamorous product of local citizens and their community organizations lobbying with letters, telegrams, petitions, resolutions, editorials, and caravans. Because the Copperas road and development at the monument were linked, progress on both projects advanced in tandem but with a jarring cadence.

Not long after the second MISSION 66 prospectus had been produced in November 1955, advocates for an improved road to the forks of the Gila sought support from the New Mexico congressional delegation, as well as from the offices of Southwestern National Monuments and of the Gila National Forest. [14] Chancie Snyder, in particular, spoke with Russell Rea, the local forest supervisor, inquiring about potential help and noting that representatives of the Park Service were very interested in having a road built. Rea's cautious response stood for the next four years: "[the Forest Service] would be glad to see a road built into the area but [was] not in any position to help on such a project because we had no funds or personnel available." [15]

A letter in January 1956, by "Doc" Campbell to Dennis Chavez, New Mexico's senior senator, took a different and more aggressive tack. Noting that "Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument, on the Upper Gila, has been the stepchild of the U.S. Government for 49 years," he entreated the senator as a person of national renown to champion the development of the area in the interests of archeological protection, tourist dollars, fire control, and recreational use. [16] Routed by Chavez to the director of the Park Service, Campbell's letter elicited a cautious reply that further study was needed before committing to a development program at the monument. [17]

Based on different sources and repeated with different sympathies, Snyder's version of the Park Service interest in the Copperas road, Campbell's darker implications, and the tepid official response to Senator Chavez created a useful kind of confusion. As its consequence, advocates for the road could tailor their arguments to any audience and corroborate their points with appropriate documents and anecdotes. Speaking, it seemed, not only in the best interests of the community but in the best interests of the Park Service and even the Forest Service, these advocates enlisted the kind of congressional interest in the road and the monument proposals that nudged them both towards development.

In December 1957, Senator Chavez again wrote the Park Service, indicating that he was "hopeful that either one or both of your agencies will try and work out ways and means of making this very essential road improvement." [18] This letter was based on presumption and the kind of circular logic that had advanced the cause of development: (1) the road was important in order for the monument to be developed, and (2) the monument should be developed because a road was going to be built. The presumption, of course, was that the Park Service wanted to implement the second MISSION 66 proposal, which was still only a tentative plan, after all. In fact, in 1957, the Region III Office was still uncommitted to development at Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument. For one thing, it was still negotiating boundaries with the Forest Service.

The presumption of the letter from Senator Chavez, an independent inquiry from Senator Anderson, and consequent memoranda about strong congressional interest [19] in the still remote monument encouraged officials of the Park Service to accelerate their planning process. [20] In July 1958, Conrad Wirth finally approved the revised MISSION 66 prospectus. [21] The cautious—hypothetical, even—support for the Copperas road that Russell Rea acknowledged to Chancie Snyder was enhanced more or less in the same way as the issue floated through the channels of the Forest Service.

Although endorsements for the Copperas road from the Forest Service and the Park Service were important, a more immediate problem in 1956 had been the issue of a road in the Gila Primitive Area. The residents on the Gila forks had built a road based on their rights of ingress and egress, but a public road to the cliff dwellings had no legal basis, according to the chief forester of the Forest Service. [22] In fact, he added, it would be inappropriate for his agency "to construct or to participate in any way in the construction or promotion of a road in a Wilderness or Primitive area."

Colonel Ely took immediate issue with the chief forester's pronouncement, referring to the 1952 recommendations of the James Committee, which had endorsed the extension of a road corridor through the primitive area as far as Gila Cliff Dwellings. In a series of irate letters and editorials, Ely accused the Forest Service of reneging on a compromise that the Washington office had not approved. [23] The colonel's irritation appeared to mystify staff at the regional office of the Forest Service, [24] who again referred to his undeniable ingress-egress rights as a resident at Gila Hot Springs; nevertheless, Ely's letters drew the weighty attention of Senator Clinton Anderson.

After a few months of correspondence with Anderson, who had personally helped to negotiate the earlier boundary compromise for the Gila Wilderness, the regional office of the Forest Service recommended the formal extension of the corridor, citing the continuing controversy over the road into the Gila Primitive Area and the recommendations of the James Committee. [25] The extension process, however, entailed a petition, a notice of intent to modify the primitive area, and a six-month waiting period. Unhappy about the processual delay, Ely finally explained in a September editorial the source of all his irritation—unless a public road were quickly designated through a corridor in the primitive area, Ely feared that federal funds could not be appropriated for future improvement. [26] In spite of the colonel's displeasure, the full procedure for deleting land from a primitive area was observed, and a corridor to Gila Cliff Dwelling National Monument was not formally established until July 15, 1957.

Once the corridor had been clearly established, efforts of the local road lobby were applied towards acquiring federal appropriations. Coordinating these efforts for the Silver City-Grant County Chamber of Commerce was Francis Parsons, who was president of the Grant County Archaeological Society and who took a special interest in the monument, having helped "Doc" Campbell identify the TJ Ruin as a Mimbres site and having guided Lambert to the cliff dwellings a year earlier. [27] In December 1957, at a public hearing in Albuquerque, New Mexico, [28] Parsons presented the first formal request for support to a group of U.S. senators. [29] Asking that they help make possible "the greater Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument" in order to promote tourism at a time when low prices for metals were dragging down the local economy, Parsons also cited the potential benefits that a road would bring the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, the Forest Service, and recreationists in general.

Afterwards, Leslie Arnberger, the regional chief of Park System Planning, reported that very little official interest in the road proposal had been evidenced, but he noted with some prescience that strong political pressure could change this prospect. [30] Indeed, within five months, Senator Chavez sent a representative from his Committee on Public Works to meet with officials of the New Mexico Highway Department, the Bureau of Public Roads, the Forest Service, the National Park Service, and others, including Francis Parsons, who again made the case for a road from Sapillo Creek to the forks of the Gila River. [31] Reporting on this meeting, Harthon Bill, the assistant regional director of the Park Service, noted that all parties said they were favorably inclined towards construction of the road but that for a variety of reasons none had the funds to do it: the Forest Service was already maintaining a 1,000 miles of gravel road with insufficient funds, the Grant County Road Department had given other roads priority, and his own agency could only appropriate funds for work within the boundaries of the monument.

Bill also reported that "there was an obvious effort to place responsibility for sponsoring the construction of the road on either the U.S.F.S. or N.P.S." [32] Believing that an acquiescence to this responsibility would entail financial obligation as well, he advised a cautious economy. This caution was manifested soon afterwards in the final version of the MISSION 66 prospectus for Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument: development at the monument was specifically contingent on the construction of an approach road by another agency. [33]

As the funding dialogue moved into the offices of federal agencies, Parsons continued to draw attention to the road issue by organizing annual jeep caravans to Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument. Starting in 1958, the caravans attracted increasing numbers of visitors to the monument and a lot of publicity. In 1960, for example, the Albuquerque Journal reported that on the third annual caravan 260 people had driven in a column of army transport trucks, jeeps, and pick-up trucks "through one of the scenic southwestern wonderlands," and the article highlighted not only the isolated monument but other attractions of the wilderness. [34]

Eventually, funding for improvements to the Copperas road was secured through its inclusion in the state's system of secondary roads. Once the jeep track road was sketched onto the inventory, Senators Chavez, Anderson, and other interested legislators secured for its construction $1,000,000 of Federal Lands Highway Funds, [35] by means of the Federal Highway Act of 1960. The next year, the state of New Mexico allocated another $200,000 towards the project. [36] All of these funds were applied for construction from Sapillo Creek to the monument. In addition, the Forest Service agreed to spend $100,000 improving the road from the forest boundary north of Pinos Altos to the Sapillo crossing. [37]

The Park Service did not contribute toward the road. In fact, even after the federal appropriations had been made, Hillory Tolson, the acting director, reported to the Bureau of Public Roads "that the objective of reaching Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument does not appear to rank of sufficient importance in comparison with the costs involved." [38] Granted, Tolson was attempting to parry a renewed request to help pay for this road, which was still underfunded. But this financial sidestep revealed a larger discontinuity: road advocates were now justifying a million-dollar appropriation in the name of a monument that officials of the Park Service did not think merited the expense.

More bluntly, the regional engineer for the Bureau of Public Roads observed at the time that none of the federal or state agencies involved was very interested in the road and that pressure for the road was almost entirely from the area around Silver City. [39] For a long time, it had been easy to underestimate the efficacy of that pressure. Construction on the Copperas road began in 1961 and continued in three phases, reaching the monument in early 1967.

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Last Updated: 23-Apr-2001