Director addresses Caldera board

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Preserve > Silva-Bañuelos lists his top five priorities

By Arin McKenna

The new executive director of the Valles Caldera National Preserve, Jorge Silva-Bañuelos, delineated his top five priorities to the board of trustees on Friday during a meeting at the Holiday Inn Express in Los Alamos.
“I truly believe that the Valles Caldera has the potential to become the premier destination in all of New Mexico. It has so much potential and so much opportunity that we just need to move together with the communities to move in that direction,” Silva-Bañuelos said.
For Silva-Bañuelos, public access is “first and foremost.”
“That certainly is going to be reconciled and aligned with our long-term goals of both public access along with the preservation and protection of our cultural and natural resources that we have at the preserve,” Silva-Bañuelos said. “But I don’t believe that those are mutually exclusive, and that’s something that we can achieve by working together to find that right balance.”
Communication is also high on Silva-Bañuelos list.
“The more I get to know about the services and opportunities and activities that are provided at the reserve, the more I realize that the myth of no public access is just that. There are a lot of public activities that are available. We need to make people aware of them, and that’s a big challenge,” Silva-Bañuelos said.
“But I think going through a concerted effort of increasing our communication strategy, both on the Internet, new media and whatnot, we can get message out to the people and increase tourism to the preserve, which will ultimately help the local communities of Los Alamos and Jemez Springs.
Silva-Bañuelos also plans to devote himself to creating a fundraising and development strategy to address infrastructure needs, particularly a plan for constructing a visitor center.
“I do not believe we’re going to be able to rely on the federal government to provide us those funds that are necessary at this point,” Silva-Bañuelos said. “Coming from Washington, budgets are tight there and we’re going to have to work together here in the community to raise the funds we need to make that happen.”
Silva-Bañuelos wants to work closely with Los Alamos, Jemez Springs, the Pueblo of Jemez and other nearby pueblos to foster an economic development strategy that would increase visitation to the preserve and benefit local communities.
“I hope to provide a forum where we bring together business leaders, local elected and others who are interested in how we work together on a holistic strategy for economic development going forward,” Silva-Bañuelos said.
Silva-Bañuelos’ final point had special significance, given an appearance by Pueblo of Jemez Governor Joshua Madalena at the meeting.
“And lastly, there are at least four tribes that care about this place tremendously, and it’s a sacred location, especially for the Pueblo of Jemez,” Silva-Bañuelos said.
“And my goal as executive director will be to build and continue to maintain strong relationships with the tribes, to make sure that they’re comfortable with the direction that we are working, and that we are strong stewards, over the long term, for those cultural resources that are found there that are important to those tribes.”
Silva-Bañuelos acknowledged those priorities were a lot to “bite off.”
“But I am going to hit the ground running, and moving forward as quickly as I can to make some of these changes go forward,” Silva-Bañuelos said.
Silva-Bañuelos also thanked Tim Haarmann, who served as interim director during the transition between former Executive Director Dennis Trujillo’s retirement and Silva-Bañuelos’ arrival.
“He did an incredible job,” Silva-Bañuelos said. “He held the place together and, thankfully, he has left me with no pressing items so I can really focus on the big picture, vision items that need to be addressed by the preserve.”
Recreation Planner Dave Davis announced two public meetings seeking input on the Transportation, Recreation, and Infrastructure Plan in support of expanded access to the VCNP.
The first will be held from 5-7 p.m., July 23 at Courtyard by Marriott Santa Fe, 3347 Cerrillos Road.
Planning group David Evans and Associates (DE A), will provide an overview of the context for the planning effort, including management principles, the framework for comprehensive management, 2012 Public Access and Use Plan, current visitation and trends in future visitation.
That will be followed by an open house from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. July 25 at the Valles Caldera.
The public will be able to view key elements of the plan and watch a recording of the July 23 presentation.
After incorporating feedback from the public, DEA will provide the Trust with a final suitability study including scenarios near term and long term development. The Trust may bring one or more of the scenarios forward as the proposed Transportation, Recreation, and Infrastructure Plan (TRIP) for the Valles Caldera National Preserve.
The redefined plan will be available for public comment before it is finalized.
Bob Parmenter, director of the Science Services Division, updated the board on the preserve’s natural resources and science projects. Parmenter reported one positive outcome from the aftermath of the Las Conchas fire: native fish are making a comeback now that the introduced brown trout are gone. Fish populations were virtually wiped out immediately following the 2011 fire.