TPL Praises Effort to Create New NM State Park

Mesilla Valley, NM, 2/18/03: Conservation groups are cheering the efforts by New Mexico legislators to establish New Mexico’s newest state park along three miles of the Rio Grande near the town of Mesilla in Do?a Ana County.

Two identical bills, HB 355 in the House, and SB 296 in the Senate, have been introduced by Representative J. Paul Taylor and Senator Mary Kay Papen, respectively, to establish the proposed Mesilla Valley Bosque Park and appropriate money for a master plan that will guide subsequent development and management. In addition, Senators Mary Jane Garcia and Leonard Lee Rawson, along with Representative Taylor, have requested capital budget funding to acquire private land from willing sellers that would become part of the park.

“We’re very pleased that this project is going forward in the Legislature,” said Deborah Frey Love, New Mexico State Director with the Trust for Public Land. “Albuquerque has its Rio Grande Nature Center. El Paso has its Rio Bosque Park.

A park like this in southern New Mexico would be a great addition to the state park system and is long overdue.”

Mesilla Valley Bosque Park would include about 400 acres on the west side of the river between the Calle del Norte Bridge and Mesilla Dam, as well as adjacent uplands. The park would feature a variety of natural habitats associated with the river, a visitor’s center, trails and wildlife viewing areas. It would include within its boundaries 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, New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, International Boundary and Water Commission’s U.S. Section (IBWC), and others.

“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 Kevin Bixby, executive director of the Southwest Environmental Center, a nonprofit conservation organization that has championed the park idea since 1999. “Rivers and their associated “riparian” habitats are critically important for preserving our wildlife,” said Bixby. “In fact, more than 330 species of birds are known to use the Rio Grande in New Mexico.”

In a feasibility study completed in October 2002, the New Mexico State Parks Division concluded that the park was a good idea, and recommended that it be developed in three stages. The first phase would consist of land acquisition and planning, which is the focus of current legislative action. 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.

Other supporters of the Mesilla Valley Bosque Park include Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, IBWC, New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, World Wildlife Fund, New Mexico Audubon Society, Mesilla Valley Audubon Society, Sierra Club, Alliance for Rio Grande Heritage, and others. In addition to backing from Senator Papen, Senator Garcia, Senator Rawson, and Representative Taylor, the proposed park is supported by other Dona Ana County legislators such as Senator Cynthia Nava, Representatives Joseph Cervantes, Mary Helen Garcia, William “Ed” Boykin, Andy Nunez, Terry Marquardt, and Antonio Lujan.

“With so many diverse groups supporting the Mesilla Valley Bosque Park,” said Bixby, “we are counting on the Legislature and the Governor to come up with the funding needed to get this project off the ground and complete the first phase.”