FRIED LIGHT: Valles Caldera needs better supervision

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By Roger Snodgrass

It seems like ever since the Valles Caldera National Trust pulled their offices out of Los Alamos and moved to Jemez Springs, they have been a little lost.

Many of us feel very much out of touch. Although we’re next door neighbors, there’s a mountain between us.

Official explanations manage to keep our expectations afloat in the objective realm, but the whispering and secrecy and arbitrary decisions easily inflame our opinions. Only the tip of the preserve’s business has been visible in recent years.

Even though I have attended nearly every meeting of the Trust over the last seven or eight years and even though I see hard-working, completely dedicated staff, I also see lots of turn-over. There’s a new communications and marketing director now and we can finally read the text on the preserve’s webpage and that may help matters.

But the trust’s most recent report to Congress had to admit that many of the goals for last year had not been accomplished. Some of those were carried over from the year before.

So there are problems about the “seize-tomorrow” pace of things, but also about attitude.

People in Los Alamos always felt they had a little extra stake in the Valles Caldera. Many local residents helped push that purchase through the political jungle and into reality.

But Los Alamos’ environmental sensitivities, its deep desire for more unfettered access have been ho-hummed. And even its best ideas, like Los Alamos’ “Living Treasure,” Dorothy Hoard’s wonderful, carefully conceived plan for a spectacular rim trail around the ancient volcanic landscape, has been patted on the back.

The trust’s new business plan, downgraded somewhere along the line to a financial information plan, is a case in point. Less than a month before it came out a couple of weeks ago, officials were saying the six-month delay in getting it finalized was no big deal for what was just a bunch of options.

When it came time to release it, they handled the report like it was a national secret, through one-on-one sessions with the press, even fixing the date when it could be released.

Meanwhile, at the last minute, they suddenly realized the report had a big problem. Its main money-maker, green burial, was not acceptable to neighboring tribes. Pulling it out of the calculations meant not reaching the break-even point that was supposed to be the purpose of a sustainability plan.

Officers of the trust and officials of the preserve spun this minor disaster back into a bunch of options that could go one way or the other, leaving very little of substance that one could complain about or support, but with the power of deciding left in their hands.

The gist of the plan suggests the possibility of substantial developments on the preserve including private concessions for lodging and restaurants, a visitors center, headquarters and an educational center.

The financial plan is inspired by a marketing slogan the preserve has been using for a while now, “A Private Land Experience on Public Land.”

Critics consider this strategy another attempt to “pave over paradise and put up a parking lot.”

Are the massive developments desirable or necessary? Can the public have confidence that this board is up to the job? Clearly management understands the “private” part of their slogan, but do they understand the “public” part?

It’s been years since the trust had a public meeting in Los Alamos, but one is coming up in June. It may be this county’s last chance for a few more years to have a say about a very precious resource for the nation and for the neighborhood.