FARMINGTON – New Mexico will become home to the next national park if a bill that redesignates White Sands National Monument is passed this week.
U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., first introduced legislation last year to establish White Sands as the country’s newest national park. Established in 1933 on traditional lands of the Mescalero Apaches, it is one of the most well-known monuments in New Mexico.
The U.S. House is expected to vote Yes this week on the White Sands National Park Establishment Act, which was included in the National Defense Authorization Act. It would then head to the Senate for a vote. According to Heinrich, the bill has bipartisan support in both chambers, and he expects it to reach the president’s desk by next week.
“By elevating White Sands National Monument to a national park, we can help boost the local economy and ensure the monument receives the recognition it deserves, while enhancing the military mission at White Sands Missile Range,” Heinrich said in a statement.
White Sands National Park would become New Mexico’s second national park designation, after Carlsbad Caverns National Park. It would bring it closer to Colorado’s four national parks: Rocky Mountain, Mesa Verde, Great Sand Dunes and Black Canyon of the Gunnison.
The reauthorization act was included in the National Defense Authorization legislation because the national monument has a long history with the Department of the Army. About a decade after the establishment of the monument, additional tracts of land were set aside for defense systems testing in the 1940s. White Sands Missile Range, near Holloman Air Force Base, is one of the largest Department of Defense open-air ranges.
The redesignation bill, which was reintroduced in March, would transfer roughly 2,826 acres of land currently within the boundaries of the monument from the Army’s management to the U.S. Department of the Interior and the National Park Service, according to the bill. About 5,766 acres would be added to White Sands National Park. The Army would then take up jurisdiction of about 3,737 acres of land previously administered by the DOI.
Supporters of the bill hope the national park designation would increase tourism to the area and improve the local economy. The redesignation also reflects New Mexico’s shift to a focus on the outdoor industry, and its Office of Outdoor Recreation, established in April.
“This is a huge win for New Mexico and our public lands as we stand at the precipice of establishing our state’s newest national park,” Heinrich said.