Fed­eral Bill Seeks Park Sta­tus For New Mexico’s Stun­ning White Dunes

Riverbank News - - NEIGBORHOOD VALUES -

SANAT FE, N.M. — A vast ex­panse of shift­ing white sand dunes in south­ern New Mexico would be el­e­vated from a national mon­u­ment to a national park un­der leg­is­la­tion pro­posed Fri­day by one of the state’s se­na­tors.

U.S. Sen. Martin Hein­rich, a Demo­crat, made the an­nounce­ment while vis­it­ing the state as part of a mul­ti­day tour that also in­cluded look­ing at the po­ten­tial for more out­door re­cre­ation else­where as New Mexico and other western states pro­mote their wide open spa­ces in hopes of at­tract­ing more tourists and more money.

White Sands al­ready brings in about a halfmil­lion vis­i­tors each year, and Hein­rich said des­ig­nat­ing the area as a national park has been some­thing that com­mu­nity lead­ers and lo­cal elected of­fi­cials have been pur­su­ing for years.

“Ev­ery­one who vis­its White Sands mar­vels at its re­mark­able ge­ol­ogy, spec­tac­u­lar scenery and out­stand­ing re­cre­ation ex­pe­ri­ences,” he said in a state­ment. “And the broad re­gional support we’ve re­ceived for what could be our state’s sec­ond national park demon­strates the end­less op­por­tu­ni­ties this des­ig­na­tion would of­fer to communities and lo­cal busi­nesses across south­ern New Mexico.”

With national park sta­tus, sup­port­ers hope the des­ti­na­tion would get more recog­ni­tion. En­trance fees and ac­cess would re­main the same.

A study re­leased Fri­day by the non­profit re­search group Head­wa­ters Eco­nom­ics found re-des­ig­na­tion of White Sands could re­sult in more than $6 mil­lion in new spend­ing and dozens of ad­di­tional jobs.

The group looked at eight re-des­ig­nated national parks in Cal­i­for­nia, Colorado, Ari­zona and Utah and found vis­its in­creased on average by about 20 per­cent within five years. The parks also had more overnight vis­its and spend­ing per vis­i­tor than mon­u­ments.

The study also sug­gests that the uptick in vis­i­ta­tion at national parks fol­low­ing the re­ces­sion will per­sist as long as the national econ­omy con­tin­ues to grow.

White Sands was es­tab­lished as a mon­u­ment in 1933 by Pres­i­dent Her­bert Hoover to pre­serve the dunes and ad­di­tional fea­tures of scenic, sci­en­tific and ed­u­ca­tional in­ter­est.

Sup­port­ers have said the mon­u­ment con­tains a more di­verse set of ar­chae­o­log­i­cal and sci­en­tific re­sources than were first known, in­clud­ing the re­cent dis­cov­ery of Ice Age fos­silized foot­prints and sloth tracks.

The mon­u­ment has the largest col­lec­tion of fos­silized tracks in gyp­sum in the world, from saber-toothed cats and wooly mam­moths to an­cient camels.

Thou­sands of hearth sites where early in­hab­i­tants built camp­fires also have been pre­served in the dunes in ways not found else­where, and sci­en­tists are find­ing new species and sub­species of in­sects and rep­tiles that have adapted to the unique con­di­tions.

White Sands is bor­dered by a mil­i­tary mis­sile range. The leg­is­la­tion would clear the way for a land trade with the U.S. Army that has been in the works since the 1970s.

An ad­di­tional 9 square miles (23 square kilo­me­ters) would be trans­ferred to White Sands and park of­fi­cials would take over man­age­ment of another area cur­rently within the mon­u­ment’s bound­ary. Nearly 6 square miles (15 square kilo­me­ters) would be trans­ferred to the Army.

Sit­u­ated in the Tu­larosa Basin, the mon­u­ment cur­rently spans 224 square miles (360 square kilo­me­ters) with the dune field stretch­ing across parts of the mon­u­ment and the mis­sile range.

Un­der the pro­posal, ex­ist­ing agree­ments would re­main in place be­tween the mil­i­tary and the National Park Ser­vice to pro­tect use of airspace and test­ing grounds for the mis­sile range, nearby Hol­lo­man Air Force Base and Fort Bliss.

Photo cour­tesy National Park Ser­vice

White Sands National Mon­u­ment in New Mexico.

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