Master Plan
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This plan translates the outstanding potential for water-associated outdoor recreation at Amistad Reservoir into requirements for effective management and development of the United States sector. Enactment of legislation by the Congress is requisite to the plan's implementation.

Public-use management will be in accordance with the policies of the National Park Service for areas in the recreation category. User fees will be collected.

The plan anticipates adequate facilities on the American side to accommodate a wide range of outdoor recreational activities, designed to meet the varied interests of all age groups. While primarily oriented to the area's aquatic resources, recreation planning envisions full provision of land-based developments for both short- and long-duration use. Taken into account are the reservoir's appealing international setting astride the Mexican border and the opportunities for complementary operations by the two countries.

Land-acquisition recommendations for the national recreation area are commensurate with the above scope of development, as well as with needs to protect the area's exceptional archeological values and to enhance visitor enjoyment of its scenic qualities.

Recreation-oriented interpretation will give primary attention to the archeological resource, with secondary emphasis on the region's geological and ecological stories, relating these to man's modern multipurpose use of the reservoir basin.

Under this plan, the optimum visitor capacity at Amistad is estimated to be 15,000 per 24-hour period.

Up Rio Grande to confluence of Pecos River, entering from right. Pecos River recreation site occupies upland on near side of confluence. Mexico on left. Amistad Reservoir here will be confined by scenic canyon walls.


The United States Section of the International Boundary and Water Commission has existing statutory authorization to acquire, in fee or lesser interest, approximately 57,360 acres of land for the Amistad Recreation Area, plus rights-of-way for the relocated railroad and highways traversing the reservoir basin. Of this total, some 2,424 acres are available for public-use development, being distributed among eight sites lying immediately above or outside the reservoir's maximum flood level. As far as they go, most of these tracts are considered individually adequate in size for the scale of use envisioned in this plan. Elsewhere, the 1144.3-foot flood contour, which is the basic project takeline, makes a satisfactory boundary for at least the main body of the recreation area, where the shoreline is more gently sloping and prevailing storage conditions leave a considerable width of land between the takeline and the water.

However, realization of Amistad's full recreation potential and protection of its archeological values will require additional authorization to supplement the above land limitation by about 5,110 acres. This increment has two basic components: 1,900 acres divided between three separate development areas, and 3,210 acres in an aggregate of narrow strips of land embracing scenic canyon walls and important archeological sites in the western part of the reservoir.

Of the three areas involved in the 1,900-acre addition, two—Pecos River and Rough Canyon—are among those for which the Boundary Commission is acquiring some lands under its own authority, but in these two cases the acreage is far less than needed to accommodate planned developments (see section on Development). The third site, designated Comstock, was not identified until after the Commission's land program was authorized and is wholly supplemental to that program. For most of the additional acreage the required estate is in fee simple, although the Commission's principle of excepting oil and gas, with an exclusion of actual entry, is considered suitable. Parts of the Pecos River and Comstock sites are not directly needed for development but will serve as background buffer zones protecting esthetic aspects of visitor use; on these a scenic easement, with grazing permitted, will suffice. Following is a tabulation of acreages at the three sites under existing and proposed authorizations:

Rough CanyonPecos RiverComstock
Existing IB & WC15100
Proposed NPS, fee70651695
Proposed NPS, easement0
Proposed NPS, total70
Site Total (above 1144.3')857101130

West down San Pedro Creek toward Devils River and main body of Amistad Reservoir. U.S. 277 (now slightly relocated) at bottom. Future San Pedro recreation site in left foreground, and future Long Point site on right side of creek in middle distance.

At a point on the Rio Grande about 10 miles below the mouth of the Pecos River, the canyon walls begin to have an elevation exceeding that of the maximum flood pool, so that upstream from this point—first on the Rio Grande and then on both rivers—there will always be exposed limestone bluffs rising directly above the reservoir. Even at highest water levels there will be cliffs ranging up to 300 feet tall in view. None of these features above the 1144.3-foot flood contour (except the 10-acre tract in the Pecos River development site, above) are included in the Boundary Commission's acquisition authority. The purpose of the proposed 3,210-acre increment is, in part, to ensure scenic and developmental control of the full height of the walls, and, in addition, to encompass significant archeological sites located in the canyons and certain tributaries.

Since the lands in question are so steep, only narrow strips are needed to enclose them. The recreation area boundaries proposed to meet these objectives consist of a series of straight-line tangents which can easily be monumented on the ground, generally lying on top of the bluffs at a minimum of 100 feet back from the edge. Chief among the tributaries containing archeological values are Seminole and Mile Canyons. Here the boundaries extend far enough up each canyon to adjoin U.S. Highway 90 in order to provide controlled trail access for the public from outside the area. In the vicinity of Langtry where modest picnic facilities and boat access to the upper Rio Grande are planned, the additional strip which is justifiable for scenic rim control is also wide enough to accommodate the developments.

With one local exception, the required estate on the 3,210-acre acquisition is, again, fee simple, less oil and gas. A scenic easement only, with grazing permitted, will suffice for a 73-acre segment of rim country across the Pecos River canyon from, and in view of, the development site of that name.

Wherever the U.S. Section of the Boundary Commission has been unable to acquire the full fee title (less oil and gas) to all islands and mainland areas within its authorized 1144.3-foot contour takeline, these interests should be perfected in Federal ownership as soon as possible.

Cooperative arrangements will be sought with Val Verde County to establish zoning regulations aimed at minimizing adverse impact on the recreation area by outside private developments.

Zoning Map. (click on image for an enlargement in a new window)


Land Zoning: The accompanying Zoning Map facilitates understanding of the degrees of land estate or interest to be acquired in various parts of the reservoir. It recognizes only two basic zones of use: Public Use and Development, and Preservation-Conservation. The size and configuration of the area and the reservoir operating requirements are such as to allow no designation of a third zone—Private Use and Development.

The Public Use and Development Zone includes all lands subject to flooding—i.e., below 1,144.3 feet elevation—and both the developed and the archeological areas above that contour. This is further divided into two subzones: the developed and archeological areas, where grazing cannot be permitted, and the remainder of the zone, where it can. The entire zone requires the fee estate.

The Preservation-Conservation Zone includes all lands in the scenic canyon sections above 1,144.3 feet which are in neither developed nor archeological areas. However, the Pecos River and Comstock recreation sites each contain a scenic buffer segment which is open to grazing and is placed in this zone. These two tracts, together with one across the Pecos River canyon from the recreation site, require only an easement interest. All the rest of the Preservation-Conservation Zone is to be acquired in fee, which is believed appropriate in view of its negligible value for grazing and its importance in scenic control.


Detailed plans will be prepared covering protection needs for both resources and visitors. For the former, of primary concern is the safeguarding of archeological values made accessible by the reservoir. Along with the termination of grazing in areas to be developed for public use, natural vegetation on unoccupied portions, if any, will be encouraged to re-establish its original conditions of variety and density, based on knowledge gained through research. On those lands where grazing is permitted, it will be adjusted to prudent carrying capacity. All reasonable steps will be taken to control air and water pollution.

The intrusion of overhead power and telephone lines in the vicinity of public-use areas will be minimized either through burial or judicious routing. Elsewhere, shoreline developments of all kinds will be avoided except for existing stock control fences extending into the reservoir, hiking and riding trails, and occasional primitive campsite facilities. All islands will be entirely undeveloped. Except at the developed areas it is not intended to fence the exterior boundaries of the national recreation area unless adjacent private landowners desire it. If not fenced, the entire boundary will be otherwise marked and posted.

Visitor protection will be largely concerned with boating safety and reservoir zoning to resolve the several competing aquatic uses, such as powerboating, sailboating, water skiing, swimming, and fishing. Management of reservoir use by National Park Service personnel will involve functions of registration, equipment inspection, supervision of launching operations, patrol and rescue, maintenance of navigational aids, and information service.

Because the American sector of the reservoir will be considered navigable waters of the United States, U.S. Coast Guard regulations will be applicable. If more restrictive, State regulations or those promulgated by the International Boundary and Water Commission (both Sections) or by the National Park Service will take precedence. In any case, Coast Guard personnel are authorized to police the U.S. waters and will provide the Service as much assistance as they are able to ensure compliance with Federal safety requirements. All boats used on the reservoir from States having boat-numbering laws will be required to bear numbers issued by those States, in conformity with the Federal Boating Act of 1958. Boats of Mexican ownership will, of course, be exempt from American registration and numbering laws.

Since the Service will have only proprietary jurisdiction over lands and waters within the national recreation area, designation of a U.S. Commissioner with trial authority will be desirable.


A comprehensive research plan will be developed to serve the needs of resource management, interpretation, and visitor enjoyment. Of primary importance is continuation of the archeological salvage program which has necessarily concentrated on the values to be lost or threatened through inundation. This should not be relaxed as long as the rising reservoir has not terminated the opportunity to rescue new data. In subsequent stages, the features above the impoundment level should receive further study. Paleoecological studies will shed much light on understanding the ability of aboriginal peoples to inhabit this region for so long a period. An historical survey will also be conducted.

Of considerable importance is mission-oriented research concerned with such aspects as determination of the original composition and density of the vegetative cover before its modification by grazing, hunting and grazing compatibility and carrying capacity, fish and wildlife habitat improvement, fish stocking, and public recreation needs and interests.


A prospectus will be prepared for interpreting Amistad's natural and human stories in the context of enhancing the recreation resource. Within this framework, primary emphasis will be placed on archeology, with secondary themes in geology, ecology, history, and the cooperative water-conservation achievement made possible by the international friendship for which Amistad is named.

The prospectus will be keyed to the full range of visitor activities discussed in the foregoing section on Resource Use, Recreational. The focal point for information and interpretation will be a visitor center located near the end of the dam west of the Diablo East development site. It is anticipated this will be an interagency facility in accordance with the Memorandum of Agreement between the Service and the U. S. Section of the International Boundary and Water Commission, which requires the Service to coordinate its information activities with those of the Section in order to facilitate public understanding of the interrelated programs of the two agencies.

The interpretive program at this building and on selected sites will present the story of prehistoric man's occupation of the Amistad area. The Whitehead Memorial Museum in Del Rio has offered its assistance in planning such interpretation in the national recreation area. The University of Texas, which has conducted the archeological salvage program for the Service, is an important source of information and materials.

A small contact station will be provided in each of the main developed areas for local information and interpretation. The one at Pecos River will emphasize archeology which centers in that area.

Many of the archeological sites in the upper parts of the reservoir lend themselves to treatment as exhibits-in-place. Several of the more prominent ones, particularly those featuring pictographs, will have interpretive signs. However, protection of the sites against vandalism is paramount, and many will require fencing or other direct control to preclude actual contact with the features before on-site interpretation can be instituted. With information obtained in the visitor center or contact stations, visitors will find their way individually to the sites. In most cases the only access will be by boat followed by a climb—varying with the height of the water level—up the canyonside. The development of trails to these sites is not considered necessary. Those in Seminole and Mile Canyons will be accessible either from the reservoir or by trails leading down from U.S. Highway 90 and the Langtry road.

The interpretive program will provide other self-guiding trips, both on established shoreland nature trails and through planned boat tours. The latter will offer the best opportunities to see wildlife, which is expected to concentrate near the reservoir shoreline. Personal services will include campfire programs in the amphitheaters proposed at certain developed areas, as well as conducted trips, such as to the archeological sites, when requested by school or other organized groups.

Because many of the recreation area's visitors will be from Mexico, the need for dual-language texts will be taken into account in the preparation of informational and interpretive materials and devices, and bilingual personnel will be specified for public-contact positions.

If the demand warrants it, a cooperating association should be formed for the publication and sale of interpretive literature and related items.

General Development. (click on image for an enlargement in a new window)


The development plan for Amistad envisions vacation and short-term use of a quality, quantity, and diversity not presently available in this part of the Southwest. Provision is made for accommodating all outdoor recreational uses associated with both the water and land resources, and for their basic supporting facilities and administrative requirements.

Developments will be dispersed between nine highly suitable sites in the recreation area. With implementation of the proposals for additional land, all sites will be adequate in size for the planned developments. Most of them are clustered in the downstream body of the reservoir within a few miles of the dam. Upstream sites are spaced at long intervals which will favor aspects of remoteness and solitude. Considerable variation in scenic types is represented by the different locations.

Access to all sites will be convenient. Five are on existing U.S. highways and two are reached by short public spurs from these highways. The Comstock and Long Point sites will eventually require new access roads constructed through cooperation with the State or county. All such roads will be maintained by Val Verde County pursuant to a cooperative agreement.

Development of the nine areas will be phased over a period of years. Not only will they enter the program individually according to increasing demand, but the earlier ones will be developed in stages related to the reservoir filling schedule (see Priority of Needs).

Administrative headquarters will be in the Diablo East site. The Pecos River site will contain a district headquarters and the Comstock site a ranger station or subdistrict office.

Developments to be constructed by the National Park Service include administrative, interpretive, and maintenance facilities, major circulatory roads and parking areas, air strips at two of the sites, launching ramps, fishing docks, courtesy docks, boat sanitary dump stations, navigational aids, picnic areas, amphitheaters, water storage, and trunk utility lines. If sanitation problems can be satisfactorily resolved, primitive campsites will be developed at selected shoreline locations in the more remote parts of the reservoir.

Concessioners will construct and operate not only the usual facilities for lodging, food and laundry services, docks, mechanical launching, boat servicing and dry storage, bath houses, automobile service stations, golf courses and other outdoor sports or games, stables and horse rental, and equipment rental, but also all campgrounds (although some will be constructed in the Government's initial program), organized group camps, and swimming pools. The last type of facility will be in lieu of federally developed beaches, which are impractical in this reservoir's conditions of fluctuation.

The development of concessions will be in accordance with the provisions of the Concessions Policy Act of October 9, 1965.

The Laughlin Air Force Base near Del Rio has applied for a site on the reservoir on which to construct a recreational center for its personnel to replace one to be inundated at Lake Walk. A portion of the Diablo East site west of the railroad tracks is suitable for this purpose under special-use permit.

A proposal has been advanced to erect an imaginative towerlike structure housing various visitor facilities in the reservoir vicinity. If found feasible, it would be appropriate and compatible with the overall development scheme to permit use of part of the Diablo East site for this purpose. The project would, in fact, contain many of the types of facilities envisioned for this site, obviating such developments elsewhere in Diablo East.

Most developments must be constructed on ground above the theoretical maximum flood elevation of 1,145.12 feet. Some that could withstand temporary flooding, such as parking areas and picnic or campground tables and fire places, could be installed within a few feet above the operating-pool level of 1,117 feet. Elevation 1,020 is selected as the minimum design level for recreational facilities, such as the foot of the launching ramps, as operational studies indicate the reservoir will be drawn lower only 4 percent of the time.

The Mexican authorities are believed to be planning similar developments for their side of the reservoir.

Up Devils River from Diablo East recreation site. Old U.S. 90 bridge will be dismantled. This was one of the finest stream-fishing sites in Texas. When reservoir forms, same resource will be available upstream above Devils Lake.


Adjacent to the intersection of U.S. 90 and the road crossing the dam into Mexico, this site will receive the most intensive use and will require the most complete array of facilities. It will contain headquarters for both the Service and the U.S. Section of the International Boundary and Water Commission. The site is only 12 miles from Del Rio and the first to be encountered by westbound travelers through the area. It is eminently suitable for overnight accommodations, campgrounds, boat launching and dry storage, a marina, and an 18-hole golf course. Excellent vistas of the reservoir are available through 180 degrees of view. An interagency visitor center near the end of the dam will contain the area's focal point for interpretation and information.

A portion of the site is available for an Air Force recreation center under special-use permit. It would also accommodate a proposed towerlike facility for visitors if this is found to be feasible.

Down Pecos River to its confluence with Rio Grande. U.S. 90 bridge (highest in Texas) in foreground. Pecos River recreation site on left beyond bridge. Old U.S. 90 descending to former river crossing will be used as a launching facility.


This site is remote from the main part of the reservoir but has an established recreational use on the small Devils Lake impoundment which will be inundated by Amistad. Marina and campground facilities will replace those to be lost.

Rough Canyon will be the least affected by water-level fluctuations in the main reservoir because the level here cannot fall below 1,040 feet. Boat access is available to the fine stretch of stream fishing on the Devils River above Devils Lake.

North across Diablo East recreation site. Devils River crosses from right to left in middle distance. Amistad Reservoir will flood lower portion of tributary ravine in center.


This site borders the deep canyon of the Pecos and provides excellent views of the reservoir and suitability for visitor developments. The abandoned U.S. Highway 90 which descends to the bottom of the canyon will be used as a launching ramp. Since this is narrow and parking at lake levels is very restricted, it is proposed to utilize a concession-operated shuttle system between a parking area on the clifftops and the water level.

An existing Highway Department overlook will be incorporated into the development.

A district headquarters will be located here. The site will be the first major one encountered by eastbound travelers. Concession facilities for lodging, camping, and a marina will be popular, but the location of the site so far upcanyon where there will be longer periods of minimum reservoir depth may make the operation somewhat marginal.


This site, located at the historic railroad town of that name, will be the first encountered from the west. Its main function will be to provide access to the Rio Grande which will be a free-flowing stream at this point much of the time. It will be one of the first to be affected by silting, and this will have to be taken into account in keeping the launching ramp open for use. The only other facilities will be a picnic area and comfort station.


Centrally located on the reservoir, this site is ideally suited to major developments of a resort-type character because of its relative remoteness and solitude. It is the furthest of the larger sites from the highway. Its terrain is excellent for a wide range of developments, including an airstrip, golf course, marina, campgrounds, group camp, and overnight accommodations. Its launching area is one of the most protected on the reservoir.

Views from this site will be among the finest in the area, and its proximity to large water expanses in Mexico will make it very popular. It is low in priority, however, because demand for it is not expected to build until other sites become more heavily developed and used.

South down Rio Grande from edge of Comstock recreation site. Mexico on right. Amistad Reservoir here will generally be confined by limestone cliffs.


This site is low in priority because of its nearness to Diablo East. It will have similar facilities, not to be constructed until those at Diablo East approach capacity use. Diablo West will have an airstrip.


Immediately below the dam, this site will provide extremely good fishing because of the cold, clear water released from the reservoir. The flow will be fairly constant, but possible flooding by sudden releases will require placement of permanent facilities at a safe elevation. These will consist of a small boat ramp and limited parking. The abandoned railroad grade here is suitable for the latter and is expected to be above water virtually all of the time. Other facilities are not needed here because of the proximity of the Diablo East site.

Land Classification Plan. (click on image for an enlargement in a new window)



For management purposes, the lands in the proposed Amistad National Recreation Area are classified as follows:

Class — High-density Recreation:

The only area in this category is the Diablo East recreation site.

Approximately 546 acres

Class II — General Outdoor Recreation:

All of the other developed lands plus all those below the 1144.3-foot maximum flood contour.

Approximately 57,343 acres

Class III — Natural Environment:

All lands above the 1144.3-foot contour in the canyon sectors of the reservoir except the archeological preservation sites, the highway and railroad crossings of the Pecos River arm, the actual developed portion of the Pecos River recreation site, and the Langtry recreation site. Also included is the undeveloped scenic-easement portion of the Comstock recreation site.

Approximately 3,073 acres

Class IV — Outstanding Natural: None

Class V — Primitive: None

Class VI — Historic and Cultural:

The more important archeological sites in the canyon sectors of the reservoir.

Approximately 600 acres

Not classified:

The area containing the dam and permanent operating structures reserved to the jurisdiction of the U.S. Section of the International Boundary and Water Commission.

908 acres

TOTAL 62,470 acres


The purposes and objectives of the National Park Service at Amistad will be coordinated with those of other concerned Federal and State agencies through a Reservoir Management Plan prepared for endorsement by each agency. This will recognize primary administrative responsibility of the Service for public use of the area, with provision for other specific conforming functions by the other agencies as are desirable and agreed upon.

The present Memorandum of Agreement between the Service and the U.S. Section of the International Boundary and Water Commission is an interim one pending enactment of legislation to establish the national recreation area. However, most of its provisions, together with such arrangements as may be arrived at in cooperative agreements with agencies in the following list, will be incorporated in the Reservoir Management Plan:

Border Patrol, Immigration and Naturalization Service
Bureau of Animal and Plant Quarantine
Bureau of Customs
Bureau of Sport Fisheries and Wildlife
U. S. Coast Guard
U. S. Public Health Service
Texas Highway Department
Texas Highway Patrol
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department
Texas Public Health Service
Texas Water Commission
Val Verde County Highway Department Val Verde County Sheriff's Office

An early agreement will be one with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department concerning grazing and wildlife management in the recreation area. The Service, as the agency administering the area, has primary responsibility for managing the habitat—soils, water, and vegetation. The inter-related function of regulating the taking of fish and wildlife by the public is recognized as being within the authority of the State of Texas. Fishing and hunting will be encouraged to such extent as is harmonious with other aspects of the total recreation program. The Service will have authority to designate zones and periods with no hunting or fishing allowed for reasons of public safety and administration of the area. Regulations so prescribed will be issued after consultation with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.


Much of Amistad's recreation significance can be ascribed to its international location. Reservoir recreationists from either country will derive added enjoyment if there is opportunity to utilize the shore-based facilities of the other. To this end, coordinated operating programs are highly desirable and will be encouraged by the National Park Service. Cooperative arrangements or agreements with Mexican authorities will be handled through the respective Sections of the International Boundary and Water Commission and, when formalized, will be incorporated in the Reservoir Management Plan.

Up Rough Canyon (not to be confused with other canyon of same name on Devils River where Rough Canyon recreation site is located) from near its junction with Rio Grande. Edge of Comstock recreation site on left. This is typical of numerous tributary canyons in upper reaches of reservoir which, when flooded, will provide interesting recreation use.


Under terms of the Memorandum of Agreement with the U.S. Section of the International Boundary and Water Commission, the National Park Service is administering the reservoir as the Amistad Recreation Area. A small staff is on the ground and minimum recreational developments at two sites are programmed. Priorities for additional action are as follows:

Legislation: In topmost priority is the enactment of legislation authorizing additional lands and developments to meet recreational needs. A related purpose of the legislation is to establish Amistad as a national recreation area, formally recognizing recreation as a dominant, rather than incidental, resource use and providing a sound and permanent basis for area management.

Land Acquisition: As soon as possible after authorization, the land-acquisition program should be implemented. If authorization is received before the U.S. Section of the Commission completes its own program, the two should be combined into a unified acquisition process to avoid enhancement escalation and reduce appraisal costs. In all but the Rough Canyon site, the two programs involve adjacent lands in the same ownerships.

Highest priority will be given lands needed for recreational developments and for archeological site preservation. Rough Canyon is most urgent of the recreational sites because a start on construction is programmed here, and only 15 out of a total of 85 acres needed for full development are presently in Federal ownership. It would be followed by the Pecos River, Langtry, and Comstock sites. Second priority will be given lands needed to conserve scenic values and enhance recreation.

Management: Various action plans covering the range of programs and procedures for managing and developing the area should be completed as rapidly as possible. At this stage the most important are the Resource Management, Research, and Interpretive Plans. The all-important Reservoir Management Plan, which provides for coordination of functions of other agencies in the reservoir area, will be a part of the Resource Management Plan.

Development: Physical developments should be scheduled in a manner best suited to meet existing and future recreational demands. Immediate needs are for development of the Rough Canyon site where the waters of Devils Lake are already available, and for minimum launching facilities at the Langtry, Lower Rio Grande, and Pecos River sites, where the streamflow of the Rio Grande and Pecos River makes early use possible.

Recreational needs on Amistad Reservoir itself are directly related to the future filling schedule. Diablo East, because of its location nearest the dam, is proposed as the first of the major reservoir sites to be developed. In anticipation of demand, at least minimum facilities should be completed and ready for use as soon as water is available, even though these may be of a temporary nature.

Once these initial facilities are in, it would be desirable to complete the Rough Canyon, Diablo East, and Pecos River sites before starting on the Comstock and Diablo West sites. Programming of the San Pedro and Long Point sites is dependent upon future demand.

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Last Updated: 26-Mar-2007