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Make the Valles Caldera a national park

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By The Staff

As you all know, the Valles Caldera National Preserve (VCNP) is a treasure located right in our back yard. Its wealth of cultural, historic, recreational and educational opportunities are framed everywhere by beautiful scenery. Currently, the Valles Caldera Trust is charged with protecting and preserving the preserve. Additionally, the Valles Caldera Preservation Act of 2000 mandates that the Trust achieve financial self-sustainability by the year 2015.

Recurrent issues have dominated discussions about the VCNP almost from the beginning.  Foremost are public accessibility and financial self-sufficiency.

While permitted recreational activities are increasing in number and variety, they remain structured, confined to small areas of the preserve and expensive. Trails within the VCNP are open for a fee at appointed times and see little use compared with those of Bandelier National Monument. Many in Los Alamos would like to be able to hike in the VCNP, as they do Bandelier, at their own leisure and for a reasonable fee.

The second issue – financial self-sufficiency – was addressed by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) report of October 2009. They concluded, “The Trust has made progress but faces significant challenges to achieve goals of the Preservation Act.” Gary Bratcher, Executive Director of the Trust, stated at the county council meeting on Feb. 2, that under the current law the Trust could not attain self-sufficiency by 2015. The Trust is striving to change the law and perhaps ask for an extension to the 2015 deadline.

Should the VCNP be terminated after a review process that is supposed to begin in 2015, it would eventually revert to the National Forest Service under the current law.

Various organizations in New Mexico, including the Sierra Club, have joined the initiative of the group Caldera Action in their endeavor to make the VCNP a part of the National Park Service (NPS). These groups believe the NPS could best manage the existing VCNP in ways consistent with the original “protect and preserve” charter behind the VCNP. The NPS has a history of making public land accessible to the public while protecting its resources. The vision is to see it as a preserve within the NPS. Like the present VCNP, a National Park Preserve admits hunting and fishing. Economic sustainability through admission charges, however, as though the Caldera were merely an entertainment venue, would no longer be an issue. The inestimable contribution a natural setting such as the Caldera gives to public wellbeing would finally receive its due.

Caldera Action has met with the New Mexico congressional delegation in Washington to discuss the issue.  In June 2009, Sen. Bingaman asked the NPS to conduct a study to see if the VCNP would be eligible for inclusion within the national park system.  The report was issued in December 2009 and stated that “The national significance and suitability of the site for inclusion is confirmed.”

At the Feb. 2 county council meeting the council tabled a resolution requesting that they be “notified and involved in the process at every opportunity,” if the U.S. Congress concurred with the NPS study’s conclusions. Instead, after a presentation by the preserve staff, they voted to have a public comment period to see what the public wants on issues such as recreation and accessibility.  Los Alamos is the primary gateway to the preserve and would benefit economically from a more open policy, by providing lodging, restaurants and opportunities for tourists to visit our great museums and hike on our trails.  

Bingaman’s staff stressed the importance of public support and asked that we all focus on getting that support through meetings and public forums and speaking to our councilors.  When Bingaman is certain that he has that support he will move on a bill.

Therefore our work here in Los Alamos is critical.  Please contact the county council and urge support for NPS management.

You can e-mail the council at countycouncil @lacnm.us. Individual Council member’s contact information can be found on the council website.

For more general information go to the Caldera Action website at www.caldera.action.org.