Editorial: NM’s White Sands worthy of national park status

By:  Albuquerque Journal Editorial Board

President Herbert Hoover established it as a national monument in 1933 and now U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich has introduced legislation to elevate White Sands to a national park.

That would certainly be good for New Mexico, resulting in increased visitation and enhanced recognition for the breathtaking site. Elected officials and community leaders have been chasing park status for years.

White Sands is a spectacular treasure worthy of being designated a national park. The monument spans about 143,000 acres in the Tularosa Basin and features majestic white gypsum cresting in dune waves. At 275 square miles, the gypsum field is the largest of its kind in the world, although about 60 percent of it is off-limits to visitors because it’s on the White Sands Missile Range.

Roughly a half million people visit White Sands National Monument each year, but those pushing for it to be made a national park expect visits – and spending – to increase with a park designation.

According to AP, a study released recently by Headwaters Economics, a nonprofit research group, estimates the new designation could mean $6 million in new spending and dozens of new jobs at White Sands. That would be a much-needed boost for our state’s lackluster economy.

According to AP, the monument has the largest collection of fossilized tracks in gypsum in the world, from saber-toothed cats and woolly mammoths to ancient camels. And there was a recent discovery of Ice Age fossilized footprints and sloth tracks, not to mention thousands of preserved hearth sites where early inhabitants built campfires. Scientists also are finding new species and subspecies of insects and reptiles that have adapted to the conditions.

Let’s hope Heinrich’s bill gains traction in Congress and White Sands gets its much-deserved promotion from national monument to national park in the near future.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.