Funding Approved for New NM State Park

Mesilla Valley, NM, 4/22/03: A citizen-led effort to establish New Mexico’s newest state park along three miles of the Rio Grande near Las Cruces took a major step forward with Governor Bill Richardson’s signing of legislation that appropriates $284,000 for phase one of the proposed Mesilla Valley Bosque Park, including $50,000 for a master plan, and $234,000 in capital outlays to acquire title or easements to private land from willing sellers within the park boundaries.

“We are very pleased,” said Kevin Bixby, executive director of the Southwest Environmental Center (SWEC), one of the project’s main proponents. “Not only has the Legislature and Governor given the green light for a new park, they also approved more funding than we expected in this lean year.”

“It’s incredible-this is the first new state park in 20 years!” said Karyn Stockdale, with the Trust for Public Land (TPL), another active project proponent. “TPL is grateful to all the partners and community members who continue to invest their time, support, and enthusiasm to create the Mesilla Valley Bosque Park. We appreciate the Governor and the very responsive Do?a Ana County legislators who recognize the need for parkland in southern New Mexico and protection of these critical lands along the Rio Grande.”

Bixby said most of the Do?a Ana County delegation was united in its support of the project. “We really appreciate the efforts of Representative J. Paul Taylor and Senator Mary Kay Papen for sponsoring legislation, and Senators Leonard Lee Rawson and Mary Jane Garcia for their leadership as well.” Other Dona Ana legislators who helped obtain funding included Antonio Lujan, Joseph Cervantes, Andy Nu?ez and Mary Helen Garcia.

The Mesilla Valley Bosque Park will include about 400 acres on the west side of the Rio Grande between the Calle del Norte Bridge and Mesilla Dam, as well as adjacent uplands. The park will feature a variety of natural habitats associated with the river, including trails and wildlife viewing areas, and in later phases will have a visitor’s center that also highlights the area’s history and culture. “In addition to affording outstanding opportunities for outdoor recreation and education, the proposed park will provide important habitat for birds and other wildlife that depend upon the Rio Grande,” said SWEC’s Bixby. Within the boundaries of the park there are a variety of habitat restoration projects, such as the ongoing “Picacho Wetlands” project by the City of Las Cruces, Southwest Environmental Center, Elephant Butte Irrigation District, and New Mexico Department of Game and Fish.

In a feasibility study completed in October 2002, the New Mexico State Parks Division (NMSPD) concluded that the park was a good idea, and recommended that it be developed in three stages. The first phase consists of land acquisition and planning, and is expected to cost about $500,000. The second phase would be initial site development, such as fencing, road access, signage and some trails. The third phase would include construction of a visitor’s center, and additional trails.

The master plan will be done by NMSPD after the funding becomes available in July 2003. The plan may identify opportunities for innovative partnerships with the private sector in developing and operating the park that could save taxpayers money. “The idea for the park emerged from the community,” said Bixby, “and community groups have been active in restoring habitat, inventorying plants and animals, and providing public education at the site for a long time. I expect that kind of involvement could continue after the state park is operational.”

Bixby noted that the City of Las Cruces and SWEC have already invested more than $230,000 in habitat work at the site, and that TPL, SWEC, NMSPD, and others are seeking a federal grant that would provide an additional $400,000 for the project plus funding for other state parks in southern New Mexico.

Other partners and supporters of the Mesilla Valley Bosque Park include U.S. Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, International Boundary and Water Commission, New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, Elephant Butte Irrigation District, World Wildlife Fund, New Mexico Audubon Society, Mesilla Valley Audubon Society, Sierra Club, Alliance for Rio Grande Heritage, and others.