Colorado, Piñon Canyon

State: Colorado

This southeastern Colorado region is a veritable gold mine of history and culture. More than 80 percent of the Canyonlands has been inventoried for heritage resources. Over 500 archeological sites have been documented that span approximately the past 11,500 years. Approximately 54 percent of these sites are considered significant and eligible to the National Register of Historic Places.

The uniqueness of the Canyonlands owes primarily to its prehistoric sites, which have remained almost completely undisturbed. The excellent preservation and high-density of Late Prehistoric (A.D. 100-1450) sites — with features such as domestic architecture, rock art, discarded tools and food refuse items — makes this an ideal area for future research on the geographical, cultural and temporal relationships of a long-term Late Prehistoric community in southeastern Colorado.

In the early 1980s, the military acquired 235,000 acres — 367 square miles — in the heart of the region in order to expand the training capacity for troops stationed at Fort Carson. Establishing the Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site (PCMS) touched off a bitter battle with landowners and evolved into a high-stakes condemnation of private property.

Five years ago, in response to base closures and realignments that have boosted troop strength at Fort Carson, the Army announced that it was exploring the acquisition of another 418,000 acres for expansion of the PCMS needs. Leaked documents indicated that nearly tripling the size of the current site was only the first phase of a contemplated takeover of up to 6.9 million acres — a giant box stretching across the entire southeast section of the state, from Rocky Ford to Trinidad to the Kansas border to the outskirts of Lamar.

Grassroots organizers formed the Piñon Canyon Expansion Opposition Coalition and lobbied county, state and federal officials to condemn the land grab, ultimately obtaining a congressional ban on any funding for expansion. Meanwhile, a sister organization, Not 1 More Acre!, challenged in federal court the Army's plan to construct new facilities and increase training on the existing site; in 2009, U.S. Senior District Judge Richard Matsch ruled that the Army's environmental impact study was inadequate and the proposed build-up was illegal.

Army officials first reduced the proposed expansion to 100,000 acres, then officially dropped the idea — for now. The Pinon Canyon Expansion Opposition Coalition is united in opposition to any expansion of PCMS. No funding, no expansion.


Wild Lands