Southeastern Utah historic site among most endangered in the country, says new report

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This April 23, 2020 photo shows an empty Interstate 163 in Oljato-Monument Valley, Utah, on the Navajo reservation. To help prevent the spread of COVID-19, the Navajo Monument Vally Tribal Park is closed. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

SAN JUAN COUNTY, Utah (ABC4) – A trading post in southeastern Utah has been identified as one of the 11 most endangered historic sites in the country.

On Thursday, the National Trust for Historic Preservation released its 2021 list of the nation’s most endangered historic sites.

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Other sites on the list include campsites from the Selma to Montgomery march in Alabama, the Boston Harbor Islands, and the Oljato Trading Post in Utah’s San Juan County.

The Utah Department of Cultural & Community Engagement says the 100-year-old trading post recently became a focal point for preservation efforts after decades of neglect.

The Oljato Chapter and the Navajo Nation are now hoping the destination will stimulate greater awareness and support for the project.

Unfortunately, officials say the deteriorated structure needs $1.3 million for rehabilitation in order to serve a new career as a community and tourist destination.

“This can become the first stop for tourists as they travel to Monument Valley and Bears Ears, which will bring in revenue and help people understand the history of trading posts,” says Herman Daniels, who represents the Oljato area on the Navajo Nation Council. “There’s a lot of memories for people who went to the trading post. I can still remember getting bubble gum from the gumball machine whenever we visited.”

Oljata Trading Post once provided Navajo producers a place to sell or trade their products, according to Utah officials. The National Register-listed Oljato complex includes a trading room, living area, storage for wares, and a traditional hogan, or sacred home, for overnighters.

But, before the trading post can serve as an economic tool for the community and tourist destination, Robert S. McPherson, a professor of history emeritus at Utah State University, says the restoration work needs to happen.

“Oljato Trading Post was the center of the community, but then it lapsed into oblivion,” says McPherson, who is helping raise restoration funds through the Friends of Oljato. “But we’re bringing it back, and it’s going to be a boon for the whole region. It has huge potential for economic and cultural revitalization in an area with strong tourism.”

Representative Phil Lyman (R-Blanding) sponsored a proposal to provide funding for the improvements for the trading post and Oljato community, such as water, power, and roads during the 2021 legislative session, and plans to do so again during the 2022 session.

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