ALAMOGORDO – U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich visited White Sands National Monument Friday to meet with community leaders and discuss legislation he plans to introduce to Congress that will designate the monument as a national park.
State Sen. Ron Griggs, R- Dist. 34, and former Alamogordo mayor kicked off discussion of the White Sands National Park Establishment Act. Griggs said it was during a meeting with Dara Parker, who at that time was a field representative for former U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, that he first inquired about the designation of White Sands to a national park.
"The reasoning of that was, we wouldn't change anything, rules wouldn't be any different and we wouldn't harm the missions of the military," Griggs said. "We talked about that for a little bit, then the meeting broke up and Dara took the ball and ran with it. She's worked now for seven years to put this to where it'd make sense and work for everyone involved."
Parker continued her efforts as she became a field representative for Heinrich's office.
"Running with it, the reality is this is a marathon," Heinrich said. "This is an idea that started many, many decades ago. There was a Secretary of Interior from New Mexico...Albert Fall, who thought this was a good idea back in the days of President Warren Harding. I think what's so special about this moment is the work that's been invested by Mayor (Richard) Boss, by Sen. Griggs, by a lot of different entities including Dara Parker on my staff to work out some of the details between the Department of Defense, the National Park Service and work through a complicated land swap that's been on the deck for four decades now." U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich visited White Sands National Monument Friday afternoon to talk about the White Sands National Park Establishment Act, legislation he plans to introduce to designate White Sands as New Mexico's newest national park. (Photo: Tara Melton/Daily News)
The White Sands National Park Establishment Act also accomplishes a land swap between the park and White Sands Missile Range that dates back to the 1970s.
According to a newly released report by Headwater Economics, eight peer National Monuments that were re-designated as national parks saw visitation increase by about 20 percent in the first five years following re-designation.
The report also stated the designation of White Sands to a national park may result in between $6.2 million and $7.5 million in new spending, 84 to 107 new jobs, and between $2.7 million and $3.3 million in labor income.
"White Sands is a huge part of our identity in Southern New Mexico and this a resource that is recognized worldwide as something truly unique on Earth," Heinrich said. "There is no place like this anywhere else. This is a place that, between it's geologic features, the unique biology that exists here, the enormous cultural history that goes back well over 10,000 years, really deserves recognition as a national park."
Heinrich plans to introduce the White Sands National Park Establishment Act to Congress on Monday.
"One thing I've learned in recent years is that, despite the fact that Washington doesn't have a great track record of getting things done at that moment, if you're really really dog it, have great local support and people are working together across the aisle, there's very little you can't get done under those conditions," Heinrich said. "I'm optimistic."
Both Alamogordo City Commissioner Nadia Sikes and Mescalero Tribe council member Pascal Enjady thanked Heinrich for moving the legislation forward and spoke about local support for the White Sands re-designation.
"White Sands is at the center of the Mescalero Apache homelands," Enjady said. "It’s a spiritual place for us, it’s a beautiful place and it holds a lot of value to us as Apache people. We want to have preservation not only for us as Apaches but also for our nation, so they can experience that wonderful history of ours."