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National park status may bring more visitors, revenue to White Sands

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Don’t expect any major administrative changes with White Sands National Monument becoming the first New Mexico national park since 1930, U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich said.

But the senator cited a study that said the national park could see an increase of 100,000 visitors a year with the change in status.

He said such an increase would be “a boom for the local economies” with an additional $7.5 million in tourist spending in the area a year.

“We certainly will be working hard with our partners at the state and local levels to try to realize those local numbers,” Heinrich said during a press call with U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small following the Senate’s passing of the National Defense Authorization Act in which the change in status is included. President Trump signed the bill Friday.

“An increase in revenue will allow for more resource protection, interpretation and visitors’ services,” the senator said.

Heinrich said the change in status would also give him more leverage in Congress to secure additional funding, saying there was no greater brand than the U.S. National Park Service.

He also believes national park status will open White Sands to more exposure from national travel and outdoors publications.

A land swap with White Sands Missile Range is included in the legislation. Heinrich and Torres Small said the swap will allow more opportunities for visitors. The swap will allow the park to remain open during testing on the missile range.

“Growing up in Las Cruces, I know what a treasure White Sands is,” Torres Small said. “… It is such a treasure we get to share and we get to grow our local economy around.”

She called the national park designation “a long time coming.” Carlsbad Caverns, which is also in Torres Small’s district, is the state’s other national park.

Heinrich has also introduced legislation that would designate Bandelier National Monument in northern New Mexico a national park.

INTERIOR BILL ALSO HEADS TO TRUMP’S DESK: Legislation containing protections for Chaco Canyon, monitoring of the aftermath of the Gold King Mine spill and programs for Indian Country is now also heading to the president’s desk. The bill was included in a Fiscal 2020 funding package that passed the Senate by a vote of 71-23 and the House by a vote of 297-120.

“I am proud that we have produced a bipartisan Interior funding bill that makes major investments in our public lands and environmental protection – benefiting our nation’s most treasured spaces and energizing our economy,” said U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M. “This bill recognizes that people all across this nation cherish clean air, clean water, our public lands and outdoor places, and the economic and cultural value these places provide to our communities.”

The bill includes legislative language to reinforce a 10-mile buffer zone protecting Chaco Canyon from new oil and gas leasing. The language makes clear that Native American tribes and tribal allottees can continue to develop their land for oil and gas exploration.

“The fragile historical and cultural sites in and around Chaco Culture National Historical Park possess a rich history that extends thousands of years,” Heinrich said. “This provision represents the ongoing efforts of the entire New Mexico delegation and I will work to ensure that we continue to protect these sacred landscapes.”

Udall secured $4 million for the Environmental Protection Agency to continue monitoring water quality in areas impacted by the Gold King Mine spill into the Animas River, and included language directing EPA to continue to work in consultation with affected states and tribes on a long-term water quality monitoring program.

The bill includes $2 million for the Alcohol and Substance Abuse Program, part of an integrated behavioral health approach to collaboratively reduce the incidence of alcoholism and other drug dependencies in American Indian and Alaska Native communities. This includes funding for grants and contracts with public or private detox centers that provide alcohol or drug treatment, including Na’Nizhoozhi Center in Gallup.

Scott Turner: sturner@abqjournal.com

 

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