Friday, Mar 9, 2012
February days in most parks – Aztec Ruins included – are the slowest of the year, when front line rangers can often count visitors on one hand.
Friday, February 24th, was a notable exception for Aztec Ruins National Monument, with 167 visitors turning out over the course of the day to join in a celebration of the park’s status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
In 1987 Aztec Ruins became a World Heritage site as part of the Chaco Culture designation, recognizing the uniqueness of the archeological sites protected in the park. Today there are still only 21 World Heritage Sites in the United States, which puts the 394-acre Aztec Ruins in the elite company of Yellowstone, the Statue of Liberty, and Everglades.
Since 1987, the park has increased awareness of its auspicious designation, culminating in the celebration of the 25th anniversary of its inscription on February 24th. Working with the NPS Office of International Affairs, the park hammered out the day’s activities for months. Even so, Harpers Ferry Center delivered a brand-new three-minute film on World Heritage just days before the event. Aztec Ruins was proud to be the first park to show it.
The park had commemorative coins made for the celebration so visitors got to take home a reminder of the day. Many families carefully studied the World Heritage symbol featured on one side and the detailed outline of West Ruin on the other.
All entrance fees were waived to encourage the community to join in the celebration. In addition to a large local showing, park employees from Canyon de Chelly, Navajo National Monument, Chaco Culture, and Mesa Verde attended. International students from the organization Up with People painted an eye-popping mural that welcomed visitors as they arrived.
The biggest surprise of the day was the number of Junior Rangers who came to earn a special badge. The park developed a World Heritage activity sheet for the event, and the kids tackled it with gusto, commenting on their wishes to visit Paris, the Pyramids, or the Statue of Liberty some day.
They promised to visit another World Heritage site during their Junior Ranger pledge. The park actually ran out of badges, awarding over 30 that day.
The highlight of the evening was guest speaker Jonathan Tourtellot, a National Geographic Fellow and the “grandfather” of geotourism. His gave an evening program entitled “World Heritage: A Made in America Achievement” to a full auditorium. He talked convincingly about the underrepresentation of the United States on the World Heritage List and explained how geotourism can benefit the park and the local economy.
Sites across the globe have a reason to celebrate this year, as 2012 marks the 40th anniversary of the 1972 UNESCO Convention, the international treaty that created the World Heritage List.
As Tourtellot explained, “The United States was the primary force behind creating this List in the first place.” Now almost every country in the world has signed the Convention and has a World Heritage site (or sites) to honor.”