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Valley de Oro refuge complete

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Students from the South Valley Academy, including Sidney Alvarez, second from left, offer Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, left, a T-shirt before the celebration of the acquisition of the last piece of land for Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge on Friday. The other students include Jessica Veleta, second from right, and Karina Romero, right. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

Students from the South Valley Academy, including Sidney Alvarez, second from left, offer Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, left, a T-shirt before the celebration of the acquisition of the last piece of land for Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge on Friday. The other students include Jessica Veleta, second from right, and Karina Romero, right. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Albuquerque’s representatives in Congress celebrated acquisition on Friday of the last piece of land needed to complete Valle de Oro, the 570-acre wildlife refuge in the South Valley.

They were joined by U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, who said the community partnership that pushed for the refuge is “a model for other parts of the country.”

Federal, state, local and private sources contributed the $18.5 million needed to assemble the land, which used to be the old Price’s Dairy, on south Second Street. It’s the first urban wildlife refuge in the Southwest.

“Valle de Oro is tremendously important to the entire region and, in particular, to the urban region of Albuquerque, New Mexico,” Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., told a crowd gathered at the site. “Today is about partnership and perseverance.”

Sen. Martin Heinrich and Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, both Democrats from New Mexico, said it was important for children to spend time outdoors, forging a connection with nature.

Seen from the air, Heinrich said, Valle de Oro “is the last big, undeveloped chunk” of land in the South Valley.

Lujan Grisham said the space will provide education, health and other benefits.

“This is an economic boost for a community that really needs it,” she said.

Friday’s celebration focused on acquisition of the last 81 acres needed to complete the refuge.

The work will now turn to planning out how to use the site. A permanent center for visitors is among the first priorities.

In the meantime, Valle de Oro is open to the public at least one day a month. Visitors are welcome, for example, on Aug. 16 from 9 a.m. to noon.

Will Rogers, president and CEO of the Trust for Public Land, said supporters have worked on the project for years.

“The value we see in this is its proximity to the community,” he said. “This is the kind of thing we need to see more of nationally.”

Isleta Pueblo Gov. Paul Torres described it this way: “It’s a giant classroom for our kids.”

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