Devastating wildfires across New Mexico could impact tourism this summer as restrictions were in place for several popular destinations.
The Calf Canyon Hermits Peak Fire has burned more than 340,000 acres in northern New Mexico, the largest wildfire in state history. The blaze, the result of prescribed burning spiraling out of control, prompted myriad evacuations in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains near Santa Fe, Las Vegas and Taos. The federal government later admitted responsibility, and President Joe Biden pledged financial assistance for recovery efforts.
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The Black Fire, which charred more than 325,000 acres in the Gila National Forest north of Kingston and Hillsboro, would have been the state’s largest blaze if not for the Calf Canyon Hermits Peak fire. It is suspected to be “man-made”, according to a report from the South West Region Incident Management Team.
Within weeks of the start of fire season, the National Park Service and the U.S. Forest Service began closing trailheads and other recreational sites on its public lands in New Mexico.
Most hiking trails and campgrounds in Carlsbad Caverns National Park and Guadalupe Mountains National Park were closed on May 25. Lincoln National Forest – home to the popular Sitting Bull Falls near Carlsbad – reopened this week on Friday.
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Backcountry camping in White Sands National Park near Alamogordo is closed while hiking and picnic areas are open.
The Gila National Forest has enacted several restrictions due to the danger of fire.
The closure and restrictions of national parks and forests in the southern region of New Mexico this summer could impact one of the main drivers of the region’s economy.
Over the past five years, between 2017 and 2021, the Carlsbad Caverns averaged 391,941 visitors, while the Guadalupe Mountains averaged 196,196.
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White Sands averaged 604,422 visitors during this time.
Restricting access to these parks could generate potential tourism revenue elsewhere.
In 2020 alone, visitors to Carlsbad Caverns spent an estimated $12.1 million in the local community, according to a National Park Service study, while guests to Guadalupe Mountains spent $9.7 million in the local community and White Sands grossed $22.5 million.
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Governor Lujan Grisham focused on ‘safe tourism’
New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham has turned to 35 New Mexico state parks to fill the void created by the fires and fire safety measures.
She said the state has no plans to close New Mexico’s state parks during fire season and will protect them using a more “measured” approach than federal agencies, while staying safe. expecting New Mexico’s national parks to reopen soon.
“We must continue to encourage safe tourism,” Lujan Grisham said in an interview with the Carlsbad Current-Argus. “I recognize the importance of the federal government which will spend billions for a major fire for which it is responsible. I understand their reaction.
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“My message to the federal government is that we need to be measured. This instinctive reaction, we consider it as a temporary closure.
Lujan Grisham pointed to ongoing pollution and climate change as driving extreme weather events such as wildfires, as state climatologists expected New Mexico to become progressively warmer. warmer and drier over the next 50 years.
“I’m a big believer in science on the effects of climate change,” she said. “I don’t think you can describe what’s happening out West as a drought. It is the aridification of our planet. We must learn to live in this environment. I think as people pull themselves together, we’ll see less severe weather reactions.
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“Embedded” in the community
Most New Mexico state parks remained open into the early summer.
One state park to visit is Carlsbad’s Living Desert Zoo and Gardens State Park, which recently reopened a 1.3-mile trail, upgraded to be handicap accessible.
The trail takes visitors through the mountains of the Chihuahuan Desert, past multiple exhibits of plants and animals native to the region, and also serves as a sanctuary for animals found injured in the wild.
At a recent groundbreaking for the revamped trail, Lujan Grisham said state parks are essential to local economies and New Mexico’s growing tourism industry.
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“These properties are extremely important to the communities in which they reside,” she said. “They are easy to forget because they are widely supported by the community and the private sector. With our outdoor recreation sector doing well and exceeding our expectations, it’s time to challenge ourselves to consider other investments.
Recent Living Desert work was funded by a $100,000 donation from Chevron, dollars that would go towards energy efficiency upgrades throughout the park’s visitor center, including a solar power system on the roof.
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Toby Valasquez, director of the New Mexico State Parks Division, said the state has $20 million in funding for more state park improvements through the federal land use act. infrastructure investment and jobs, landmark legislation passed by Congress and signed into law by Biden last year. .
“We’re really integrated into our communities in every corner of the state,” Vasquez said. “We really want to encourage people to get out and enjoy the parks. It increases the quality of life. »
Southern New Mexico State Parks
Park profiles adapted from descriptions on the New Mexico State Parks website. Go to https://www.emnrd.nm.gov/spd/find-a-park/ for more information on each park.
- Bottomless lakes: Located 14 miles southeast of Roswell, Bottomless Lakes State Park accommodates non-motorized boating, swimming, fishing, and scuba diving in its sinkholes, ranging from 17 to 90 feet in depth. depth. There are also opportunities for camping, picnicking, hiking and bird watching.
- Brantley Lake: New Mexico’s southernmost lake, 20 miles north of Carlsbad, offers boating, kayaking, canoeing, fishing, hiking trails, bird watching, developed and primitive campsites and toilets with showers.
- Caballo Lake: Framed against the Caballo Mountains south of Truth or Consequences, this lake offers an array of water recreation, such as boating, kayaking, canoeing, sailing, swimming, and fishing. Choose from 170 campsites, with many sites with utility hookups for RVs.
- City of Rocks: City of Rocks is a geological formation made up of large carved rock columns, or pinnacles, rising up to 40 feet. Located midway between Silver City and Deming, the park offers campsites, hiking trails, mountain biking, wildlife viewing, bird watching, star gazing, picnic areas and a desert botanical garden.
- Elephant Butte Lake: New Mexico’s largest state park is just north of Truth or Consequences. The lake can accommodate watercraft of many styles and sizes: kayaks, jet skis, pontoons, sailboats, ski boats, cruisers and houseboats. The park offers restrooms, a picnic area, playgrounds, and landscaped sites with electrical and water hookups for recreational vehicles.
- Leasburg Dam: A 25-minute drive from Las Cruces is this peaceful park along the Rio Grande. The park offers a cactus garden, an observatory, several hiking trails, and opportunities for fishing, canoeing, kayaking, and birdwatching.
- Living Desert Zoo and Gardens: This native wildlife zoo features more than 40 species of animals and hundreds of plant species native to the Chihuahuan Desert. The park also has hiking trails, picnic areas and facilities for groups. There is no camping and pets are not allowed.
- Bosque of the Mesilla Valley: The park is located on the Rio Grande near Mesilla. Visitors have the opportunity to view wildlife in a natural environment while walking one of the self-guided nature trails.
- Oliver Lee Memorial: Set against the Sacramento Mountains, this park includes a historic ranch house, a quiet campsite, and the oasis created by pools of water beneath the cottonwoods of Dog Canyon. Hiking trails also available.
- Villa Pancho: Located in Columbus, on the Mexico border, the park’s exhibit hall and historic structures chronicle the history of the Pancho Villa Raid and historic Camp Furlong. The large campground offers utility hookups for campers with RVs and a play area for the kids.
- Percha dam: This tranquil park along the Rio Grande, between Truth or Consequences and Las Cruces, is shaded by tall cottonwoods and offers fishing, camping, and bird watching.
- Rock dog: The rugged slopes of the Little Florida Mountains near Deming provide the setting for this park, which features hiking trails, unique geology, wildflower displays and a campground.