Landmark New Mexico Overlook Protected

Taos, NM – The Trust for Public Land (TPL), a national land conservation organization, has purchased and transferred to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) 856 acres of land seven miles south of Taos known as the Taos Valley Overlook to ensure its permanent protection as open space and wildlife habitat. The breathtaking view of the Rio Grande gorge from the Taos Valley Overlook greets residents and visitors as they top the Horseshoe Curve heading to Taos on Route 68. The land represents approximately one-third of a 2,580-acre tract that numerous Taos residents and other New Mexicans have been working to safeguard for future generations. It includes high mesa desert, cliffs, and the green vegetation areas along the Rio Grande and will become available to visitors for low-impact recreational activities such as hiking, fishing, and picnicking.

Funding for the project comes through the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). In October, Congress appropriated $4 million for the acquisition of this first portion of the property in the FY 2001 Interior Appropriations Bill. The support of New Mexico’s Congressional delegation-including Senators Pete Domenici and Jeff Bingaman and Representatives Tom Udall and Joe Skeen-was essential to the approval of funding for the project. Both Senator Domenici and Chairman Skeen are members of the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, which oversees decisions regarding the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

“I am proud to have helped secure the federal funding to preserve the Taos Valley Overlook,” said Domenici. “This land purchase and transfer by the Trust for Public Land marks the first phase in fully setting aside this picturesque property for public enjoyment and habitat for delicate wildlife species. I will continue to do what I can to see that Congress helps protect this property for future generations to enjoy.”

“This purchase of land near the Taos Valley Overlook is welcome news, and an important step toward protecting the scenic vistas that make the Taos area so unique,” Bingaman said. “That this purchase was made possible through the LWCF also points to the important role this program plays in protecting our nation’s land, water, and wildlife resources.”

“With this act, we will be able to defend and safeguard the beauty and history of the Taos Valley Overlook” Udall said. “It is a testament to what I have believed: that those who live among our unique lands love them and, given the chance, will always find ways to help protect them. The citizens of Taos County should especially be applauded for their involvement in this project.”

“Completing the land acquisition for the first phase of the Taos Valley Overlook has had a positive impact on expanding recreational opportunities,” commented Skeen. “Working together to help protect public lands such as this will allow current and future generations to enjoy the nation’s natural resources.”

Additional funds must be appropriated over the next two years in order for the entire 2,580 acres to be purchased and protected. In FY 2002, a total of $5 million is necessary to protect the second portion of the property.

“The first phase of the project would not have received federal funding without broad-based support from Taos area residents and visitors, the diligent work of New Mexico’s Congressional delegation, and the help of state and federal conservation partners,” said Clare Swanger, executive director of the Taos Land Trust, a regional land conservation organization spearheading the campaign to safeguard the property. “Ever since the Taos Land Trust was founded, people have told us how important this view is to them and how much they want it protected,” she noted.

In 1999, thinking that the time might be right to move forward, TLT initiated a partnership with TPL and BLM to protect the property. At the BLM’s request, the Trust for Public Land negotiated a purchase agreement with the property’s owner, the Klauer Manufacturing Company, for the three-phased purchase of the property.

“We view this land as a treasure of national significance,” said Michelle Ch?vez, BLM’s New Mexico state director. “It will provide exceptional opportunities for Taos residents to enjoy the natural resources, as well as the more than 1,000,000 people who visit the region each year.”

Located within and adjacent to the Rio Grande Wild and Scenic River corridor, the property will expand the BLM’s Orilla Verde Recreation Area. According to Ron Huntsinger, field manager for the BLM’s Taos Field Office, the BLM will manage the vegetation and water quality along the Rio Grande to protect habitat for the threatened Southwestern willow flycatcher and bald eagle and for sensitive species such as the peregrine falcon. The scenic overlook will receive the highest level of protection possible under the agency’s policies. “We are very pleased with the support we received from the community for the purchase of the property,” said Huntsinger. “The BLM will fully involve the community in the planning process to specifically define how the property will be managed.”

“We are very happy to share the news that the first portion of this special land is now protected forever as public open space,” said Deborah Frey Love, TPL project manager. “We commend the Klauer family, the New Mexico Congressional delegation, the BLM, and the numerous supporters and officials whose collective efforts have resulted in this major victory for the project.”