dinosaur tracks

A theropod track is show along Purgatoire River in the Picketwire Canyonlands in southeast Colorado on Sept. 28, 2013. Theropods were relatively small predators, about the size of an ostrich, that roamed in vast herds about 230 million years ago.

I confess my inconsistency. I’m a skeptic about constantly adding state and national parks to the roll, before we figure out how to pay for the neglected parks we already have.

I’m suspending that deeply held position when it comes to making the Amache National Historic Site in southeast Colorado a national park.

The Amache National Historic Site memorializes the Granada Relocation Center, one of 10 incarceration camps to hold Japanese Americans  behind barbed wire fences under armed guard during World War II, when the nation was fighting Hitler over fascism and his inhumane treatment of Jews.

There are too many good reasons for Amache's designation to happen that it would be a crime of misgovernance for our national leaders not to get on board.

Luckily, our delegation to D.C. is committed, partisanship be damned. Democratic Rep. Joe Neguse of Lafayette and Republican Rep. Ken Buck of Windsor can be thanked for getting the bill out of the House, and now we’re counting on Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper, both of Denver, to do the same in the Senate.

“The forced removal of Japanese Americans during World War II to incarceration facilities like Amache is a shameful and dark period in American history that we must never forget,” said Bennet. “Adding Amache to the National Park System preserves its story to help future generations learn from our mistakes."

It’s also a presidential legacy Joe Biden, or any president, should be honored to have.

Between 1942 to 1945, as many as 10,000 people passed through the Prowers County site, 640 acres inside a 10,000-acre tract that imprisoned men, women and children who had done nothing against their country. Everyday American citizens were forced to farm 9,000 acres to feed themselves and others who shared cramped barracks concentrated in 1 square mile.

In 1988, President Reagan issued a formal apology and signed the Civil Liberties Act to compensate survivors with  $20,000 each.

The compassionate conservative said that Japanese Americans were “taken without trial, without jury. It was based solely on race." Reagan stood to right the wrong initiated by his predecessor, Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Formally known as the Granada Relocation Center, Amache was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1994, then designated a National Historic landmark in 2005.

Camp Amache was the site’s informal name adopted by locals. Amache was a Cheyenne Indian chief’s daughter who married John Prowers, the biggest local rancher and the county's namesake.

In a state that relies on tourism, the plains get the short end of the stick. Tourism offers an opportunity, though certainly not a cure-all, for what ails an economically imperiled region of our state.

For one story or another, I’ve spent a lot of time in southeast Colorado — more than I’ve spent in southwest Colorado — and I’ve never lacked for things I feel rewarded for knowing about.

A couple of months after I landed in Colorado 20 years ago, I received a last-minute assignment to cover a sunrise service to mark the anniversary of the Sand Creek Massacre site on Nov. 29, 1864, when 675 members of the Third Colorado Cavalry slaughtered a village of peaceful Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians.

The number of dead vary by telling from 69 to more than 600, including women and children, in violation of the 1861 Treaty of Fort Wise, which made the Sand Creek area part of a reservation. That's what our nation's word was worth.

The attack was naked revenge for the killing of a white ranch manager and his family north of Elizabeth. The cattle were taken and the ranch buildings burned. Yet, there was never any evidence that linked it to Indians. At least one expert at the time said the killing was inconsistent with Arapaho or Cheyenne tactics.

Twenty years ago when I first visited, the spot where people died was under a canopy of trees along a dry river bed in a vast rolling field just 138 years earlier, just two lifetimes, I thought. The morning was freezing. Standing there with perhaps 200 American Indian descendants, I felt connected to the chaos, tragedy and lingering outrage.

That's the value of a memorial site.

There's much more. The Santa Fe Trail passed through here on the trek west out Dodge City, Kansas, with a stop at Bent's Fort, the "Castle of the Plains."

Southeast Colorado is home to the Picket Wire Canyonlands a short drive south of La Junta in the Comanche National Grasslands. If you’ve never walked in the shallows of the Purgatoire River, then you’ve missed the chance to cool your dogs inside a fossilized imprint left by a passing Allosaurus 230 million years ago. The canyons and riverbanks hold more than 1,900 dinosaur tracks frozen in time, the largest track site in North America, and they are still digging up skeletons there.

That’s not nearly all of it. The hiking opportunities to various historic sites are a smorgasbord of our history and culture across ages. The stone ruins of the Dolores Mission and its adjacent in the broad, rolling canyon dates back to 1898. The Rourke Ranch National Historic District provides a glimpse into the work and architecture of a ranch established in 1871.

If the U.S. Army had had its way, all this Colorado history could have been in the line of fire. The military bought up most of the adjacent 235,000 acres in the early 1980s for a training site, forcing many ranchers to give up their property through eminent domain. Picketwire is on the eastern boundary of what would have been a bombing range. If bombs didn't land directly, then the 5,000 troops, 300 heavy tracked vehicles and 400 wheeled vehicles a year expected to train there would take their toll on the fenced-off rolling short-grass prairie.

Local activists and state politicians saved it for you. In 2014, the Army scrapped its plans to develop the Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site, which is now used as a recreation area.

Northeast Colorado could use some tourism attention, as well, but southeast Colorado is sitting on an untapped gold mine, if it gets enough critical mass, such as with a national park, to lure Front Rangers out of their comfort zone.

Colorado Politics senior political reporter

Joey Bunch is the senior correspondent and deputy managing editor of Colorado Politics. His 32-year career includes the last 16 in Colorado. He was part of the Denver Post team that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2013 and he is a two-time finalist.

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