Taos Valley Overlook Property (NM) Receives Initial Government Funding

Taos, NM – The breathtaking panorama from the Taos Valley Overlook, the view that greets residents and visitors as they top the Horseshoe Curve heading to Taos on Route 68, has been appropriated $4 million in Congressional funding as the first step toward securing its permanent protection. The funds will enable the Trust for Public Land (TPL), a national land conservation organization, to transfer approximately 860 acres to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for inclusion in the Orilla Verde Recreation Area, thus completing the first phase of this three-phase protection project.

“People view this land as a treasure of national significance,” said Michelle Chavez, BLM’s New Mexico state director. “It includes 2,580 acres of high mesa desert, cliffs, and riparian areas around the Rio Grande, which provides exceptional recreation opportunities for Taos residents and the more than 1,000,000 people who visit the region each year. The property also will provide habitat for wildlife, including sensitive species such as the peregrine falcon and bald eagle.”

Funding for the project will come through the new, six-year Land Conservation, Preservation, and Infrastructure Improvement Program (LCPIP), created when the FY 2001 Interior Appropriations Bill became law last month. LCPIP provided $450 million from the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) for land acquisitions across the country. Congressional appropriators recently agreed to allocate $4 million to acquire the first of the three parcels for the Taos Valley Overlook project.

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. “This is a huge achievement in preserving the natural beauty of our area,” said Clare Swanger, executive director of the Taos Land Trust. “Ever since the Taos Land Trust was founded in 1988, people have told us how important the Taos Valley Overlook is to them, and how much they wanted it preserved. It is a testament to the hard work of all involved that funds have been appropriated for the first phase of the project this year.”

The LWCF funding will be used to purchase approximately 860 acres, or one third of the total project area. Project participants will seek additional Congressional funding over the next two years to purchase the remaining 1,720 acres.

Swanger had high praise for the New Mexico Congressional delegates, Senators Pete Domenici and Jeff Bingaman, and Representatives Tom Udall and Joe Skeen. “Their efforts were essential to the approval of the $4 million for Taos Valley Overlook,” she said, adding, “New Mexico is fortunate to have two members of its delegation on the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, where the decisions on this funding were made. Both Senator Domenici and Representative Skeen are senior members of the Senate and House Interior Subcommittees and they played critical roles in getting this project approved.”

In praising the project, Domenici touted its wildlife and recreational benefits. “The lower portion of this land is located within the boundary of the Rio Grande Wild and Scenic River, and is desirable habitat for the bald eagle, the peregrine falcon, and the endangered southwestern willow flycatcher. The property is a significant view shed for the Rio Grande Gorge, will allow for the protection of the watershed, and will provide multiple recreation opportunities for the public.”

The Trust for Public Land negotiated a purchase agreement with the current owner, the Klauer Manufacturing Company, for the three-phased purchase of the property. The purchase agreement for the first phase expires March 31, 2001. TPL will work with the BLM in the coming months to complete due diligence tasks necessary to complete the transaction, such as appraisals and land surveys. Once acquired by the BLM, the property will be open to residents and visitors for light recreational activities such as hiking, picnicking, bird watching, fishing, painting and just plain enjoying the views.

“We are very happy to share the news that the first portion of this special land will soon be protected forever as public open space,” said Deb Love, TPL project manager. “We commend the Klauer family, the Taos Land Trust, the BLM, and the numerous supporters and officials whose collective efforts have resulted in this first major victory for the project.”

Jim Klauer, speaking for the Klauer family, said, “It is with great pleasure that the Klauer family enters into this agreement with the Taos Land Trust, the Bureau of Land Management, and the Trust for Public Land. The result of this partnership will be the preservation of the Taos Valley Overlook with its spectacular views and recreational uses for future generations of Taose?os and all those who travel to this enchanting place.”

Pointing out that additional funding will be needed over the next two years to permanently protect the entire property, Swanger added, “With the enormous and enthusiastic public support we are receiving, and the strong support from the New Mexico Congressional delegation, we are confident people in this and future generations can continue to enjoy that amazing view of the Rio Grande Gorge as they come over the hill toward Taos.”