Administrative History
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On the Pajarito Plateau, myriad interests posed problems. The demands of the growing population of Los Alamos meant impingement on the values of the park. The various Federal agencies in the area, most notably the Department of Energy [DOE] and the United States Forest Service [USFS until the late 1970s, when it changed its name to USDA Forest Service], had objectives that often conflicted with those of the Park Service. Native American groups also exerted influence, as did private land owners and industrial concerns that sought to develop the economic potential of natural resources in the area. By the middle of the 1980s, the administration of Bandelier found itself in the vortex of a whirlpool of competing interests, each of which had the ability to affect the future of the resources preserved within park boundaries.

The people who lived in the town of Los Alamos were both the source of many of the threats to the park and the most vocal supporters of preservation efforts. The needs of the community put considerable pressure on the resources of the plateau and the park. But the highly educated, civic-minded citizens of the town also valued the beauty of Bandelier and its environs and consistently sought to protect the aesthetic and cultural values of the area as their community grew.

This internal conflict in Los Alamos often produced paradoxical situations. Los Alamos had a unique timbrè of life, a style all its own. Yet its individuality grew out of conflicting factors. Los Alamos was an enclave of scientific America located in a more traditional world. The average level of education in the community was unusually high. The relative inaccessibility of the town and its outdoor-oriented culture contributed to the dissatisfaction many residents felt about the comparatively few cultural amenities available in Los Alamos County. The long commuting time between "the Hill" and Santa Fe also frustrated local residents. Social change and development offered the promise of new experience while simultaneously threatening to destroy the insular world of Los Alamos.

Little was new about the nature of this conflict over the use of space. Again, the people of the Pajarito Plateau faced the classic conflict of incommensurable values. They had to weigh the relative merits of the tangible and intangible benefits each change might bring. A number of interest groups had plans for the limited space available on the plateau and deciding which use would take priority involved an intricate tangle of public, private, aesthetic, economic, and quality of life issues.

The question of the development of the old Girl Scout retreat called Camp Evergreen or Westgate, a fifty-acre tract opposite Apache Springs in the Jemez Mountains, at the outset of the 1980s typified the nature of the problems within the community and the threats the growth of Los Alamos presented to Bandelier National Monument. As the population of the Pajarito Plateau grew, so did the demands upon the limited space of the region. New residents needed housing, utilities, sewerage, and other services. As the area available for development in and around Los Alamos diminished, remaining sections attracted the attention of everyone on the plateau—from potential developers to the Park Service and the Forest Service.

Camp Evergreen had a history of recreational use. In 1967, the Sangre de Cristo Girl Scout Council acquired the tract from the AEC and used the two structures on the property as the basis for a summer camp and retreat. In the ensuing decade, vandalism increased considerably. Buildings on the property were burglarized, vandals destroyed fences and latrines, and the leaders of the Girl Scouts worried about the safety of their charges. They made plans to sell the tract, surmising that it held promise for small-scale development. [3]

A prime piece of land on the Pajarito Plateau rarely appeared on the market. Just as the Park Service became aware that the land was for sale, a buyer purchased it. In October 1980, John Umbarger, a LANL employee, and his wife Kathy, Dennis and Linda Perry, and Larry and Sandy Luck delivered a down payment of $25,000 out of a total selling price of $275,000. Calling themselves Westgate Families, the partners planned a high-density development in the area. They sought to rezone the tract to accommodate their desires. [4]

The Park Service responded quickly to the challenge of a new "Bandelier Acres" subdevelopment. The regional office devised a strategy that included contact with the national offices of Girl Scouts of America and efforts to work with state and local Government to restrict uses of the land. The suggestion that the Park Service purchase the land with donated funds also arose. On December 22, 1980, Superintendent Hunter met with Umbarger, who had become the spokesman for Westgate Families, to review the plans to develop the Camp Evergreen property. Hunter expressed his concerns, which included the impact of more intensive use of an area of the monument that had previously received little visitation, increased threat of fire that a larger number of visitors posed, the interruption of the existing fire management plan, problems resulting from utility service, and noise and visual pollution brought on by the development. Despite the number of concerns, however, Hunter told Umbarger that the Park Service "had no real grounds to oppose [either] the rezoning or the project." Since the land fell outside of park boundaries, Hunter believed that agency policy prevented vigorous opposition. [5]

Umbarger and his partners carried their project forward. On January 14, 1981, they asked the Los Alamos County Planning and Zoning Commission to rezone the fifty-acre tract from W-2, wilderness and recreation status, to 13.2 acres of residential and agricultural, and 36.6 acres of planned development at 3.5 units per acre. The county commission scheduled public hearings on the issue.

The people of Los Alamos were upset by the idea of the development. Although Linda Perry remarked that the owners wanted to "preserve the integrity of the area," local residents were suspicious of their plans. The sale of the Camp Evergreen property also affected the plans of the Los Alamos Ski Club to engineer an exchange of land with the Forest Service to expand its ski runs. At the suggestion of the USFS, the skiers had purchased a 40-acre tract of wilderness along the Jemez River in the hopes that its value would equal that of a 150-acre parcel of national forest land the skiers coveted. But the $275,000 price of Camp Evergreen had driven up the value of land on the plateau, and a new appraisal of the relative worth of the two tracts left the skiers with a shortfall of approximately $350,000 in the proposed swap. This inadvertent complication by the Westgate Families in a matter of considerable local interest inspired antipathy towards the development, and the editorial page of the Los Alamos Monitor filled with anti-Westgate letters. [6]

The staff at Bandelier viewed the developments with interest and concern. Hunter reported that the "issue [was] heating up" and that people from Los Alamos requested more visible involvement on the part of the Park Service. "Some," he wrote regional director Robert Kerr, "are quite perplexed by our lack of involvement." Even Hunter's public articulation of the stance of the Park Service did not stem the requests for more action.

The issue aroused much interest in Los Alamos, and local people took the lead in opposing the project. At a time when the leadership of the Department of the Interior unequivocably favored the development of public land in the West, Hunter and the regional office kept a low profile as Westgate became the most important local development issue of 1981. After considerable public scuffling and a number of legal challenges to the process by Westgate Families, the rezoning issue landed on a referendum ballot.

On June 30, 1981, the public turned back the zoning changes for the Westgate tract. Each of the three ballot issues failed by an average of about four percent of a total of 5,200 votes. The vote effectively terminated the development planned by Westgate Families. [7] During the following years, the community of Los Alamos battled over the development. The staff at Bandelier monitored it closely, but little fell within the realm of agency actions.

Westgate continued to pose a threat to the park. Westgate Families continued to press its case, and over time, won concessions from both the city and the county. In August 1984, the tract cleared the final zoning hurdle, and the county permitted a density of 3.5 units per acre over the entire fifty- acre tract. The owners announced that they would initiate studies to determine the most appropriate use of the land, and hoped to begin construction during the following building season, the spring of 1985. But after they received final clearance for utilities on the tract, Westgate Families sold the tract to Paul Parker, a local developer. The Forest Service sought to acquire the tract by an exchange of land, and Parker held up his plans to see what the foresters would offer. Throughout 1986, the USDA Forest Service searched for an appropriate tract to exchange, but found none. Parker remained patient. By late 1986, he had not begun to build. [8]

Yet the primary issue, reconciling the needs of the Los Alamos community with those of its neighbors on the plateau, remained. Los Alamos County would grow, and to a certain degree, the Park Service remained defenseless against such growth. In the 1980s, its best defense against impingement was to ensure use of the park by the local community. With Bandelier as a visible asset to the unique lifestyle of Los Alamos, the Park Service could rely on local people to point out the sensitivity of the values of the park and resist efforts that threatened to destroy the unique character of the region.

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Last Updated: 28-Aug-2006