Otero County Commission opposes White Sands designation change | KOB 4

Otero County Commission opposes White Sands designation change

Casey Torres
May 21, 2018 08:10 PM

ALAMOGORDO, N.M. — It's "national monument" vs. "national "park."


On May 4, Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., unveiled the White Sands National Park Establishment Act, legislation he plans to introduce to the U.S. Senate. The proposal aims to increase the local economy, but the Otero County Commissioners think the change in status won't bring in more visitors.

The Otero County commissioners have sent a letter to Heinrich explaining why they oppose the designation change. In the letter, the commissioners say a study by the Headwaters Economics Inc. is "flawed." Vice Chair Susan Flores said the study is not enough.

"How can they prove that by changing this name and spending all that money to change everything to White Sands National Park, how can that guarantee that we'll have more visitations?" she said.

In the letter, the commissioners say study groups like Headwaters will say what they need to say to get "future commissions to do studies."

Flores has some ideas she believes will bring in more tourists.

"If you really want to increase visitation there (White Sands) and keep people in Otero County, then we need to make a campground where people can bring their trailers, RVs and kids and camp there overnight," she said. "That would be a way to increase visitation."

She said something else that could help, is reopening former State Route 52 that's been closed since World War II. Opening that road, Flores said, would increase tourism throughout the region.

Flores said White Sands already gets more visitors than Carlsbad Caverns National Park, so the change does not guarantee more tickets being sold.

The county commissioners do agree with one change, the land-swap between the Department of the Interior and the Department of the Army.

Vanessa Valdivia, the press secretary for Heinrich, said the proposal is a community-effort aimed at improving the local economy and is supported by local community leaders and elected officials.

Here is a list of supporters for the White Sands National Park Establishment Act 

  • Alamogordo City Commission
  • Las Cruces City Council
  • Mescalero Apache Tribal Council
  • Town of Mesilla Board of Trustees
  • Alamogordo Mayor Richard Boss
  • State Sen. Ron Griggs
  • Alamogordo Chamber of Commerce
  • Greater Las Cruces Chamber of Commerce
  • Las Cruces Green Chamber of Commerce
  • National Parks Conservation Association
  • Southern New Mexico Public Lands Alliance

Here is some reaction to the proposal:

 "The Alamogordo Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors enthusiastically supports the White Sands National Park Establishment Act. We appreciate the extraordinary amount of time and consideration Senator Heinrich has dedicated to crafting legislation that brings benefit not only to Alamogordo and its business community, but our military partners as well. It is a rare thing in today's political climate, when legislation is written in a way where there are no losers. The Alamogordo Chamber of Commerce wishes to extend our sincere appreciation to Senator Heinrich for having accomplished this feat."

— GB Oliver, president and CEO of the Alamogordo Chamber of Commerce


"The White Sands National Monument is a special place. If anywhere deserves the national park designation, it does."

— State Sen. Ron Griggs, R-Alamogordo


"As a resident and the Mayor of Alamogordo, the gateway to White Sands, I am very excited about the possibility White Sands National Monument may become White Sands National Park. I believe this designation change would bring a significant increase in economic activity in and around Alamogordo. We are very fortunate to have this natural wonder in our backyard. Visitors from around the world will become more aware of White Sands with the "park" designation.  I want to personally thank US Senator Martin Heinrich and NM Senator Ron Griggs for their commitment to this possible designation change." 

— Richard Boss, Alamogordo mayor


"The Town of Mesilla has worked successfully to grow the economic benefit of outdoor tourism to our community, continues to recognize the importance of tourism as one of the cornerstones of our local economy, and desires to pursue new opportunities to increase tourism.  That is why I and the Board of Trustees support the White Sands National Park Establishment Act." 

— Nora Barraza, Mesilla mayor


"Tularosa is rich in history, culture, livestock and amazing food.  Turning White Sands National Monument into a National Park would not only bring more attention - and tourism - to the region and our quaint village, but also help preserve this beautiful area and highlight for all the history it contains. I hope the national park name inspires more locals and visitors alike to embrace their White Sands." 

— Margaret Trujillo, Tularosa mayor


"The Greater Las Cruces Chamber proudly supports the change of designation of White Sands Monument to White Sands National Park.  This new designation will provide a tremendous economic catalyst for our region.  Providing new exposure to our area while enhancing the military mission is truly a 'win-win.'"

— Denten Park, chair of the Greater Las Cruces Chamber of Commerce


"As an advocate for the military bases in our region and in particular White Sands Missile Range, we appreciate Senator Heinrich and his local staff's diligent consideration of the Department of Defense's issues and needs in the designation change legislation.  The inclusive process provided an opportunity to address existing issues allowing WSMR and White Sands National Park to continue their longstanding partnership that truly benefits our region, state and nation."

— Bill Connor, Greater Las Cruces Chamber of Commerce Military Affairs Committee chairman


"Southern New Mexico Public Lands Alliance members believe that our public lands must be kept in public hands. Therefore, we enthusiastically stand with Senator Heinrich and all our leaders who labor to upgrade White Sands National Monument to National Park status.  This move will enhance the local economies, better serve tourists, and deepen the connection between citizens and this unique environment," 

— Jeff Swanson, chairperson of the Southern New Mexico Public Lands Alliance


Casey Torres

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