CONEJOS — The southern part of the San Luis Valley was the backdrop of the 2022 Fall Conference of the Alliance of National Heritage Areas. The Sangre de Cristo National Heritage Area is in Alamosa, Costilla, and Conejos counties and hosted the event Oct. 10-14.
National Heritage Areas are a part of the National Park Service that preserve unique populated areas with cultural, historical, natural value, and are of national significance.
The members of the Alliance of National Heritage Areas collaborate with area organizations to protect and promote the area's cultural and natural beauty. There are currently 55 National Heritage Areas nationwide.
Each year, the Alliance of National Heritage Areas (ANHA) holds a fall and spring conference. Representatives of the 55 National Heritage Areas visit different heritage sites to learn about the area, work with area organizations, exchange ideas to find out the best way to assist that community in protecting and preserving their valuable assets.
About 200 people spent the week in San Luis Valley as guests of SdCNHA. One day they visited historic sites in Conejos County, like the oldest church in Colorado, Our Lady of the Guadalupe Church in Conejos.
In the church hall, visitors heard from several presenters. Antonio Esquibel spoke of restoring the Sociedad Proteccion Mutua de Trabajadores Unidos (SPMDTU) historic insurance building in Antonito and sang the SPMDTU hymn that people would sing before each meeting — a song reminiscent of a Civil War Cry of Freedom song.
People had the chance to see traditional Spanish dancing from Los Vecinos Baliadores.
The group visited the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad and Depot in Antonito, the historic Garcia/Espinoza/Garland Ranch in Antonito, and the Jack Dempsey Museum in Manassa.
People learned about the critical issues of water and land rights. Another day was spent in Alamosa County, visiting museums and its treasure, the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve.
A third day was spent exploring Costilla County, learning about its wild west history at the Fort Garland Museum.
In San Luis, visitors from the various National Heritage Areas went to the shrine at Stations of the Cross and looked across the valley at La Vega, la Sierra and the People's Ditch, learned how they irrigated the farmland since San Luis became a town in 1851.
Visitors also went to San Acacio and the Rio Grande Natural Area on the border of Costilla and Conejos counties.
Julie Chacon is the executive director of the Sangre de Cristo National Heritage Area Alliance, based in Alamosa. Board members represent their different counties, like Anna Lee Vargas from Manassa, Sharleen Farmer from Conejos and Lori Laske from Alamosa.
Chacon welcomes the opportunity for members to come from all over the United States " to network with staff, board members and partners..(to talk) about their projects, and share ideas. We can showcase projects that are working and being done in our Heritage Area."
In the past, the Alliance of National Heritage Areas visited the Mississippi Delta and learned about Emmett Till.
In spring 2023, the Alliance of National Heritage Areas will visit Muscle Shoals, Ala.
To learn more about the Sangre de Cristo National Heritage Area, go to sangreheritage.org.