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20 • JULY 2018

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MONUMENT OR PARK? • MICHAEL SCANLON

White Sands Could Change

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Tourism focus of possible name change

.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich is introducing federal legislation to upgrade White Sands National Monument to full national park status, the New Mexico Democrat told an audience in Las Cruces, adding that the idea has been around for decades, and the first such legislation was introduced in 1960. “Today, we have such incredible bipartisan support for it in local communities – in Las Cruces and Mesilla and Alamogordo and Tularosa, from the Mescalero Apache tribe, and that is making this the time to make this happen,” Heinrich said. The senator spoke during the New Mexico Outdoor Economic Conference, which drew 150 outdoor recreation and public lands boosters from across the West to the Hotel Encanto in Las Cruces on Thursday and Friday, May 3 and 4. “Our public lands are an important driver of local economies,” Heinrich said. “That’s especially important in rural communities. Last year, the Outdoor Industry Association found that outdoor recreation introduced $9.9 billion to New Mexico’s consumer spending. That is an enormous contribution. And 99,000 people in New Mexico work in some aspect of that.” Heinrich said public lands have benefits

Photos by Richard Coltharp

that reach well beyond economics. “They’re a great equalizer, places that all of us can access, no matter how thick our wallet is,” Heinrich said Friday. “I think that’s something particularly important at a time when our country is more economically stratified.” A recent study by Headwaters Economics found that raising the status of White Sands could attract more than 100,000 new visitors a year and boost visitor spending by as much as $7.5 million a year. The legislation includes a land swap that has been in the works since the 1970s, Heinrich said. It would give the Department of Defense land to support its testing mission and give the park service land with more cultural resources and new places for visitors to explore. Ray Rasker, executive director of Headwater Economics, a nonprofit research organization, listed the potential benefits of making White Sands a national park. Researchers came up with a range of values between conservative and reasonable. Those estimates include: • Boost visitation by 21 percent, or 102,435 visitors a year. • Creating between 84 and 170 new jobs. • Increase visitor spending between

$6.2 million to $7.5 million a year. • Raise labor income between $2.7 million to $3.3 million. “We know national parks outperform national monuments,” Rasker said, adding that it’s essential for local communities to promote their neighboring national parks. “As soon as there’s a national park designation, you’re a dark green spot on the map. People suddenly know where you are. It’s news. ” he said. Michael Scanlon is a Las Cruces freelance writer and may be reached at mscanlon999@ gmail.com

Desert Exposure - July 2018  
Desert Exposure - July 2018