Still no official Indian response, but Parks Board gives concept approval to Garden cave plan
A proposal to document the interior of a large, sealed-up cave in the Garden of the Gods gained concept approval from the Colorado Springs Parks Board Sept. 10.
The action gave hope to an Old Colorado City Historical Society (OCCHS) group led by Westside civic leader Dave Hughes, whose request to enter the cave to find evidence of Euro-American exploration going back to the 1840s had been postponed by the board two months earlier.
On that occasion, the board had shown disappointment that the Hughes group, despite its efforts, had been unable to obtain formal American Indian approval - particularly from the Southern Ute tribe, which had been prominent in this area through the 1800s.
At the more recent meeting, on being told that there is still no official Ute response and on receiving assurances about the safety and scientific purpose of the spelunking proposal, the board voted to conceptually approve it. Included in the vote is the condition that a new letter be sent to the designated Southern Ute representative, making it clear that if a response is not provided within 30 days it will be interpreted as a lack of oppposition.
Hughes had once hoped to explore the cave as part of Old Colorado City's 150th anniversary activities this year. Now he expects the volunteer project will not occur until 2010, partly because of the approval delays and partly because project archeologist Bill Arbogast will be out of the area until next spring.
He said the board action was encouraging because he has tried (without success) to reach all Indian groups who have history in this area, and he believes that the Indians in the 1800s did not use the cave, in any case.
The board was also influenced by Matt Mayberry, City Parks' cultural director, who put in a good word for the cave expedition. “We want to maintain a longstanding good relationship with the American Indian community, so we respect their concerns, but we want to hear their concerns, if they have any,” he said. “At the same time, the Historical Society has done everything we've asked them to do to make this acceptable to our department.”
He added the caution that waiting indefinitely for an Indian response might be “setting a precedent that any future archeological investigation may not be allowed by the American Indian community, and I don't want to set that precedent.”
Austin Box, a local Ute Indian elder who has previously urged waiting for the official tribal response, was present at the meeting but did not speak.
The added delay (waiting for a reply to a new letter) will also give the OCCHS time to work out the details of an $8,500 grant request to the State Historic Fund, Hughes said. The grant is needed to pay for the main costs of the cave mission.
Among the 19th century cave visitors was the historically prominent Lawrence Party (including “bloomer girl” Julia Archibald Holmes) in 1858, Hughes said, but added that this has never been formally documented.
Located on the western side of the Garden's North Gateway Rock, the cave is estimated at 100 feet high and 200 feet across. It was most recently unsealed in 1965.
Westside Pioneer article