Taos Valley Overlook Protection Complete (NM)

TAOS, N.M., 4/10/03 -The Trust for Public Land (TPL), the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and the Taos Land Trust announced today the successful completion of a multi-year effort to preserve the breathtaking 2,581-acre Taos Valley Overlook property. TPL, a national non-profit land conservation organization, conveyed to the BLM the final 372 acres of the Taos Valley Overlook property, bringing one of New Mexico’s most spectacular landscapes into permanent protection. Located within the Rio Grande Wild & Scenic River corridor, the BLM will manage the land to protect its open space, recreational, and habitat values.

A partnership among the BLM, TPL, the New Mexico Congressional delegation, Taos Land Trust, San Felipe Pueblo, Santo Domingo Pueblo, and hundreds of New Mexico residents has now saved from development the well-known property that affords visitors the stunning view of the Rio Grande Gorge from the top of the “horseshoe curve” on NM Highway 68 between Santa Fe and Taos. The land includes high mesa desert, cliffs of the gorge, and riparian areas along the Rio Grande.

“This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the public to acquire such a beloved treasure,” said Deb Love, TPL’s New Mexico State Director. “Twenty years after our initial meeting with the landowners, the pieces of the puzzle finally came together. The project’s ultimate success depended upon willing, conservation-minded landowners, the dedicated staff at BLM, the successful partnership between TPL, Taos Land Trust, the tribes, and a supportive Congressional delegation, especially Senator Pete Domenici, a member of the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, which oversees the funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund. We’re very proud to have led the effort to preserve this spectacular property.”

U.S. Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM) told the partners that “I am very pleased and proud to have assisted in this important purchase for the federal government. I heartily thank the Trust for Public Land, the Taos Land Trust and the Bureau of Land Management for helping to make possible the protection of this critical scenic and recreational area. This beautiful acreage will now be protected and available for all to enjoy in the future.”

In connection with TPL’s Tribal Lands Program, the partners’ efforts to protect the Taos Valley Overlook also resulted in the return of almost 10,000 acres of culturally significant land to the San Felipe Pueblo and almost 7,500 acres of culturally significant lands to the Santo Domingo Pueblo. In addition to the land exchanges, funding for the acquisition was made available through the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund. “The Taos Valley Overlook property is spectacular, and offers outstanding recreational possibilities. I am so pleased that the federal government has assisted in ensuring that this site will be enjoyed by the public while being protected for future generations,” said U.S. Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), who has led the effort to ensure the Land and Water Conservation Funds is adequately funded.

TPL negotiated the original purchase agreement in 2001 with the former landowner, Klauer Manufacturing Company, enabling the BLM to acquire the property over several phases. Through the generosity of the owners, the BLM was able to purchase the property for $5 million less than the appraised value. Funding for this project would not have been possible without the overwhelming support of local residents and visitors who sent letters and emails and called their congressional delegates to voice support for this acquisition.

“I have been proud to be part of this effort to forever protect the Taos Valley Overlook,” Representative Tom Udall (D-NM) said. “The addition of this important and scenic area will provide an added boost to the local economy, while at the same time protecting these lands for the enjoyment of future generations.”

The Taos Valley Overlook property is located within the Orilla Verde Recreation Area outside the town limits of Taos, New Mexico. Situated within and adjacent to the Rio Grande Wild & Scenic River corridor, the Taos Valley Overlook offers spectacular views of the Rio Grande Gorge and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The property also provides critical riparian habitat for peregrine falcon, native brown trout, and the federally listed endangered southwestern willow flycatcher. Given the property’s exceptional recreational amenities-including a stretch of the Rio Grande Wild & Scenic River Corridor-the property will be managed for light recreation use, including kayaking, rafting, fishing, mountain biking, hiking, and scenic viewing. And, thanks to this collaborative effort, thousands of New Mexicans and close to a million visitors a year will forever be able to enjoy the dramatic views of the gorge and mountains from the highway.

“The Taos Land Trust is very pleased to have participated on behalf of the people of northern New Mexico to preserve this magnificent landscape today and for generations to come,” said Mark Schuetz, President of the Board of Taos Land Trust. “We are infinitely grateful to the hundreds of citizens who invested the time to bring their enthusiasm for the Taos Valley Overlook to the attention of our very responsive Congressional delegation.”

Now that the acquisition of this property is complete, the BLM will begin developing the recreational and environmental plan for the area, as part of the Orilla Verde Recreation Area. The Bureau anticipates that the property will be open for use by residents and visitors in early 2004.

Linda Rundell, New Mexico State Director of the Bureau of Land Management, said “I am very pleased that we have now accomplished protection of the wonderful Taos Valley Overlook. It truly represents the importance of partners working together for the benefit of the public and the lands we cherish.”