Salt Basin Dunes Enhanced Visitor Use FONSI
Contact: Karl Pierce, 915-828-3251 ext 2300
Contact: Janet Coles, 915-828-3251 ext 2400
(Pine Springs, TX) On December 21, 2012, Intermountain Regional Director John Wessels signed a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) for a project to enhance visitor access to the Salt Basin Dunes on the west side of Guadalupe Mountains National Park. This step concludes the agency's environmental review of the project and allows the project to go forward. The project is designed to enhance visitor amenities at the Salt Basin Dunes to encourage increased visitor experiences in this scenic and ecologically unique area. In November , the agency completed an Environmental Assessment of the project to enhance visitor access to the Salt Basin Dunes, which the National Park Service has determined, will not have a significant impact on the park and therefore will not require further environmental study.
Why did the National Park Service (NPS) decide to enhance visitor access to the Salt Basin Dunes?
The new facilities will be located on the west side of the park at the Salt Basin Dunes, which includes the second largest gypsum dune field in the United States, as well as cultural sites, wildlife and plant life. The area was added to the national park in 1998, but has only been accessible to the public on a limited basis since that time. Currently, facilities for visitors to this remote section of the park are limited to a small, poorly defined gravel parking area. There are no sanitary facilities, no room for larger vehicles to park or turn around, no interpretive displays and no shade. During the summer months temperatures can exceed 100°F. Summer storms may produce heavy rains that can make the access road impassable for days or weeks at a time. Access to the Salt Basin Dunes requires a nearly 90-mile round trip to the Pine Springs Visitor Center to check out a gate key. The proposal to enhance visitor facilities at the Salt Basin Dunes is needed, in part, to address human health and safety risks, and resource degradation associated with the existing, inadequate parking area. In particular, the lack of sanitary facilities has created a situation in which visitors have created numerous social trials around the parking area. The small size of the existing parking lot causes drivers of larger vehicles to drive into the surrounding desert scrub in order to turn around without backing. The new facilities will eliminate these concerns, protect park resources, including viewshed, archeological resources, historic structures, sensitive species, and wilderness character, will increase accessibility to the area and provide visitors with an opportunity to learn about and appreciate this unique area. Visitor access to the Salt Basin Dunes is addressed in the park's Draft General Management Plan/Environmental Impact Statement (February 2008), which may also be found at the NPS planning site (http://parkplanning.nps.gov/gumo/). The National Park Service evaluated the impacts of this proposal in a comprehensive Environmental Assessment (EA).
What work will be accomplished as part of this project?
Based on the findings in the EA and the public input received throughout the planning process, the NPS has decided to construct new, defined parking area large enough for 10 passenger vehicles (including one universally accessible spot) and 2 recreational vehicles, and an RV turnaround, to accommodated anticipated public use. It will contain a double vaulted toilet, shade structure sheltering three picnic tables, and interpretive displays explaining the natural and cultural history of the Salt Basin. The site is 1/3 mile west of the existing parking lot on Williams Road. The picnic shelter, vault toilet and permanent interpretive displays will be universally accessible, as required by the Architectural Barriers Act and the Section 106 of the Rehabilitation Act. The existing parking area will be halved in size by removing fill and will be converted to an accessible interpretive area and overlook. Half of the old parking area will be restored to native salt desert vegetation. The road leading to the existing parking area will be converted to a 1/3-mile long accessible trail. Much of the center of the development will be revegetated to native salt desert scrub and grass species. The project will include interpretive displays describing the natural and cultural history of the dunes. A split rail fence will separate the developed area from the surrounding desert ecosystem. As part of the project, park staff will repair or replace some of the existing infrastructure in the dunes area, including preparing a construction staging area adjacent to current entrance gate, reinstalling a cattle guard at the NPS boundary to restore functionality, building a temporary road adjacent to entrance gate during reinstallation of the cattle guard, replacing a locked entrance gate with open swing gate, removing interior gate and fencing adjacent to existing entrance gate, modifying the existing road by adding a base course and minor contouring to assist with road drainage, installing a pump at Lemonade Well to allow water tenders to fill tanks from the well for dust abatement, improving the road to Lemonade Well to provide access for water tenders, and increasing protection patrols in dunes area.
How does this action coincide with the reason the park was established?
Guadalupe Mountains National Park was established by Congress on September 30, 1972, "to preserve in public ownership an area in the State of Texas possessing outstanding geological values together with scenic and other natural values of great significance." The 1988 Statement for Management states that "the Guadalupe Mountains are nationally significant because of a combination of outstanding geologic, scientific, and scenic resources, including cultural and natural features unique to the American Southwest." In 1988, the National Park Service added 10,123 acres of the Salt Basin on the western side of the park, including significant portions of the dune fields bordering the basin. The dunes record the existence of a large lake that gradually dried during the last 10,000 years. Progressive shrinking of the lake left behind characteristic features such as coppice and parabolic dunes, saline lake deposits, shoreline terraces, and shoreline dune ridges. As the second largest gypsum dune field in the United States and the only large area of gypsum dunes outside of White Sands National Monument in New Mexico, the Salt Basin is geologically significant. In addition, the dunes support unusual plant associations and rare species, marking the area's biological significance (NPS 1988). Because of their scenic beauty, geological importance, and unusual ecosystems, The Nature Conservancy purchased 266 acres of the dunes in 1980 and managed the property as a nature preserve until transferring ownership to the NPS in 2011.
When will the NPS begin project activities?
Park staff has already begun constructing the new parking area and has constructed a split rail fence around it. The vault toilet has already been delivered and installed. Park staff is currently constructing a shade structure and developing temporary interpretive signage. The additional work is ongoing and will be performed by park staff.
Further information about the NPS Enhance Visitor Access at the Salt Basin Dunes project is available in the Environmental Assessment/FONSI which can be located at: http://parkplanning.nps.gov/gumo/ or by contacting Guadalupe Mountains National Park Chief of Resource Management Janet Coles at (915) 828-3251 x2400 or email Janet_Coles@nps.gov.