An Administrative History
Guadalupe Mountains National Park, authorized by an act of Congress in 1966 and established in 1972, comprises 76,293 acres of mountain and desert land in West Texas. Congress established the park for its scientific and scenic values. The escarpments and canyons of the high country provide dramatic displays of geological sequences. McKittrick Canyon, which contains a perennial stream and unusual biotic associations, and the Bowl, which contains a relict forest, are the focal points of the park's biological values. The park also contains archeological resources and historic resources related to westward emigration and early ranching operations. Of the area within the boundaries of the park, 46,850 acres are Congressionally designated wilderness.
The park is located on the Texas-New Mexico border, 110 miles east of El Paso, Texas, and 55 miles southwest of Carlsbad, New Mexico. U. S. Highway 62/180, which passes through the southern end of Guadalupe Mountains National Park, is the primary route by which visitors reach the park. The area in which the park is located is undeveloped and sparsely populated; the land is used predominantly for cattle and sheep ranching. However, the entrance to Carlsbad Caverns National Park is only 35 miles northeast of Guadalupe Mountains on Highway 62/180 and at one point the boundaries of the two parks are only five miles apart. The few tourist facilities between El Paso and Whites City, New Mexico, consist primarily of small cafe-gas stations.
Nomadic peoples utilized the resources of the mountains and desert lands of the park for at least 10,000 years before Europeans arrived in the area, but there were no permanent settlements until the late-nineteenth century, when settlers moved in and began cattle and sheep ranching. Later, in the 1920s, Wallace Pratt bought the first of several parcels of land he would acquire in McKittrick Canyon. He built a summer home and a later a permanent residence on the property. In the early 1960s he donated 5,600 acres of his property in McKittrick Canyon to the federal government to be used for a park.
J. C. Hunter also purchased land in McKittrick Canyon in the 1920s and thereafter managed the canyon property as a wildlife preserve. It was part of his 72,000-acre Guadalupe Mountain Ranch, on which he raised sheep, goats, and cattle. In 1969, three years after Congress authorized the establishment of a national park in the southern Guadalupe Mountains, the federal government purchased the Guadalupe Mountain Ranch from Hunter's son, J. C., Jr. Between 1966 and 1972 the government also purchased a number of smaller parcels of land that had been included within the park boundaries and acquired through donation the mineral rights to the park lands.
Planning for the park began in 1961, shortly after the Park Service began managing Pratt's donation in McKittrick Canyon as part of Carlsbad Caverns National Park. By 1979, master planning and most of the planning for development of the new Guadalupe Mountains National Park were complete. Wilderness designation for much of the park limited its uses primarily to hiking, backpacking, horseback riding, and scientific research. Developments planned to enhance those uses included a professionally planned trail system, two developed campgrounds, and a number of primitive campgrounds. Two visitor contact stations, a main visitor center and operations headquarters, housing for park personnel, and a maintenance facility rounded out the developments planned for the park.
Construction of the park facilities began in 1977 and, except for the visitor center and operational headquarters, was mostly complete by late in 1982. After numerous design changes to reduce the cost of the combination visitor center and operational headquarters, in 1987 Congress approved funding for construction. Ground breaking took place in May 1988.
From its establishment in 1972 until late in 1987, Guadalupe Mountains National Park was administered jointly with Carlsbad Caverns from a headquarters in Carlsbad, New Mexico. From 1973 until 1987 an Area Manager lived at the park and oversaw day-to- day operations. Since October 1987, Guadalupe Mountains has had its own resident Superintendent and management of the two parks has been separated except for shared administrative services.
During the first fifteen years after establishment of the park, resource management focused on research to identify and evaluate the natural and cultural resources of the park. Under the mandates of wilderness management, park personnel worked to return the park lands to their natural state and to protect the flora and fauna found there. Significant cultural resources were either stabilized and preserved or adapted for use as administrative facilities.
By 1988, with construction of the visitor center and operational headquarters underway, development was nearly complete. Similarly, much necessary research to establish baselines for resource management had been accomplished. Fifteen years after its establishment, the park had assumed the form and substance of maturity.
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