Mesa Verde
Administrative History
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Mission 66 was a 10-year program initiated in 1956 to develop and staff the National Park Service areas in order to meet the requirements of an expected 80 million visitors by 1966. Construction was an important element of the program. Outmoded and inadequate facilities would be replaced with physical improvements adequate for expected demands, but so designed and located as to reduce the impact of public use on valuable and destructible features. It would provide both adequate facilities and personnel for visitor services and assure the fullest possible degree of protection to visitors and resources.

More effective protection of both the scenic and prehistoric values was the primary objective of Mission 66 plans for Mesa Verde National Park. This was to be accomplished by decentralizing activities and dispersing facilities. Space within the park that could be devoted to development was limited and the plans under Mission 66 proposed to make the most efficient and least damaging use of such space.

Certain factors, like the law that established the park, the nature of the terrain and the distribution of the prehistoric Indian ruins imposed severe limitations on the space available for development of visitor use. Such limitations exerted a tremendous influence on the planned use and development of the park.

In the early days when the park was opened to the public, the availability of water was a deciding factor both as to location and type of facility. Water determined the location of the Spruce Tree area developments. Once the physical developments were started, they grew by gradual accretion until they by far exceeded the original concept and the capacity of the site to accommodate the demands of the 1950s. The slow growth by gradual expansion at Spruce Tree Point continued even after water was brought in from some 30 miles away and water was no longer a controlling factor.

Through necessity at first and then by tradition, Spruce Tree Camp became the center of all activity with a concentration of all facilities and services for the visitor, concession operations and park administration. The intermingling of unrelated activities, competing with each other for more space, added to the general confusion and congestion of facilities. The situation became increasingly acute through the years as the number of visitors increased. Not only was space badly needed for visitor accommodations and services, but also for visitors to maneuver around. In that respect the park was no different from an urban area where a mobile populace was demanding more and more roads and parking to ease traffic congestion and hazards.

Several years before the inception of the Mission 66 program it became quite evident that something had to be done to expand the park's interpretive facilities in order to meet the ever growing number of visitors. Travel had increased steadily since the creation of the park. Since 1946, when total travel was 39,843, it had increased by average annual increments of more than 13,000 to reach a 1956 total of 186,808 visitors. Statistical projections of the annual increases indicated that the three main cliff dwellings and the mesa-top ruins on Chapin Mesa would soon reach a bursting point.

Prior to 1957 consideration was given to several means of expanding the facilities and attractions on Chapin Mesa. Some of these included the relocation of the park administrative facilities, extending the park road on to the southern portion of Chapin Mesa, and the concept of day-use activities. But it soon became apparent that because of lack of space at Spruce Tree Camp for any further concessioner development, campground expansion, and other facilities, and lack of additional large cliff dwellings that could be developed for a large visitation, any further development on Chapin Mesa would seriously compound the problem. Only by sacrificing archeological values could additional space be obtained to expand the Spruce Tree Camp development.

As originally planned, the Mission 66 scheme of reorientation of park activities would be accomplished through a phased program of physical and management improvements. The physical improvement program provided for the development of three new sites for visitor use—Morfield Canyon, Navajo Hill, and Wetherill Mesa—and the rehabilitation and improvement of certain of the existing developments at Spruce Tree Camp.

How the three sites would be used was explained briefly in the 1957 prospectus:

At Navajo Hill—the key unit of the plan—there will be constructed the facilities and structures required for the personal needs of the visitor, such as lodging, eating, supplies, information, and orientation. Navajo Hill might aptly be termed the visitor service center of the Park...

The Wetherill Mesa development will include construction of the access road, parking overlooks, trails, branch visitor center, comfort station, and seasonal employee quarters. In general, the development will be held to a minimum with simple facilities to preserve the primitive character.

The Morfield Canyon development will include all the facilities required for a campground capable of accommodating approximately 500 camping parties.

The development at the Park entrance will include a new entrance station, comfort station, ranger station, road improvements, and park administrative facilities.

At Spruce Tree Camp the development would consist almost entirely of reconditioning the area and converting it to an archeological interpretive center for daytime visitor use. Among the improvements contemplated were enlargement of the museum, preparation of a lunchroom, road improvements, a large parking area, walks, picnic area, and the removal of all buildings not essential to the planned use of the area.

With respect to interpretive operations the basic proposal in the early planning phases was to develop Wetherill Mesa as a complete interpretive unit similar to, and as an alternate for, Chapin Mesa, and to establish Navajo Hill as a control and dispersal point with a large well-equipped visitor center. In other words, Wetherill Mesa would be an equal to Chapin Mesa in the number of people it would accommodate, the number of ruins open to the visitor, and the interpretive and physical facilities provided.

On August 14, 1957, Director Wirth concurred in the proposal to use the Wetherill Mesa for expansion of the park's visitor interpretive features. Following this the park prepared and submitted a research and development program on June 10, 1958, which was approved by the Director. [1]

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Last Updated: 21-Aug-2004