An Administrative History
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Planning continued in the 1980s. Park managers considered adding more land to the park, but in most cases, the plans that management adopted were revisions or more detailed versions of earlier plans rather than being totally new concepts. With planning for development nearly complete, planning for preservation of the natural and cultural resources of the park became the highest priority. Ralph Harris, the Area Manager of the park from 1981 to 1987, suggested that prior to 1984, when the first full-blown resource management plan was approved, management decisions often had to be made as individual problems occurred. Running a park that was in a reaction mode rather than an action mode made the job of the area manager hectic and frustrating. [1]

Economic Feasibility/Market Study

The Concessions Management Branch of the Professional Support Division at the Denver Service Center studied the feasibility of establishing a horse concession, a camper/hiker store, and a food service at Guadalupe Mountains National Park. A random sample survey of visitors, taken between January and August 1980, provided some input to the study, as well as comparison with similar concessions at Big Bend National Park. None of the surveys developed for the study showed that concessions would be economically viable at that time. [2]

Master Plan Supplement

In 1980 park planners initiated a study to investigate the possibilities of revising the boundaries of the park and to provide a Development Concept Plan for the west side of the park. In the House Committee Report accompanying P.L. 95-625, the law that gave wilderness designation to 46,850 acres in Guadalupe Mountains National Park, committee members asked that the park's west side land be re-evaluated for wilderness designation after development plans were complete. Therefore, in compliance with the House request, the Master Plan supplement also made recommendations regarding increasing the amount of land in the park that was designated as wilderness.

Planners considered three locations for boundary revisions. One, on the west side of the park, involved acquiring approximately 9,500 acres of red quartoze and white gypsum sand dunes immediately adjacent to the park's western boundary. The second location included several areas along U.S. Highway 62/180 that had been designated as part of a "critical scenic preservation zone" in the Master Plan approved in 1976. Since the plan did not provide any means of retaining the scenic qualities of the zone, the study undertaken in 1980 addressed whether any boundary expansion was needed in those areas and, if expansion were necessary, what type of ownership or control would be most appropriate. The third part of the boundary study included the disposition of two sections on the west side controlled by a scenic easement. [3] It also included consideration of two and one-half sections of land outside of the park boundary that had been acquired for trade purposes at the time of the purchase of J.C. Hunter, Jr.'s, property but had not been used and were still owned by the federal government. Figure 20 shows the conditions existing in 1980 and the areas affected by the proposed boundary revisions. [4]

Besides no action, the Environmental Assessment for the Master Plan supplement provided four alternatives for development on the west side of the park. The alternatives proposed varying levels of resource protection, facility development, wilderness designation, and different locations for the access road and facilities. The Environmental Assessment and Master Plan supplement were available for public comment from December 1980 to February 1981. During this period, park officials received 72 letters and a petition related to the plan. Three persons attended a public meeting about the plan held in Carlsbad on January 14, 1981. A similar meeting, held the next day at a location near the park, drew about 85 persons. Local citizens who expressed opinions generally were opposed to any form of land acquisition, either in fee or easement, unless the landowner was willing. However, many local people were in favor of an improved road connecting Dell City with the west side of the park. Park visitors and representatives of conservation organizations favored the alternative that proposed acquisition of the entire sand dune area in fee, as well as acquisition in fee of an area near Guadalupe Pass and a scenic easement near McKittrick Canyon. This alternative did not include a road between Dell City and the west side of the park and proposed the addition of 33,200 acres to wilderness designation. [5]

Congressman Richard White supported the suggested boundary revisions and the development of visitor and administrative facilities on the west side of the park; however, in a conversation with Donald Dayton in August 1980, he indicated strong opposition to additional wilderness. Reminding Dayton that he had gone along with what to him seemed to be more than adequate wilderness in the original legislation, he was unwilling to support an addition, especially in the vicinity of Pine Canyon. Although he realized the tramway was a "dead issue," he believed that the focal point of visitor interest should not be under the restrictions of wilderness designation. He also indicated his unwillingness to cooperate with environmental groups that "keep coming back for more" every time Congress approved wilderness legislation. [6]

boundary map
Figure 20. Existing boundaries and non-park sections as of 1980.

West Side Boundary Study

In August 1981, because of changing policies and funding constraints, Interior Secretary James Watt indefinitely postponed the proposed park expansion. In 1985, however, the possibility of acquiring the red and white sand dunes was revived. The landowner who controlled the major portion of the sand dunes area contacted the Department of the Interior and offered to exchange his lands in the dune area for federal lands in another area or state. A new study was undertaken to update the work done in 1980.

The area under consideration comprised 10,123 acres, somewhat more than proposed in the Master Plan supplement because it included the grasslands lying between the sand dunes and the access road. The area recommended as an addition to Guadalupe Mountains National Park included all of the red and white sand dunes, which have been identified as Texas Natural Landmarks (see Figure 21). Within the sand dune area were many unusual plant associations and rare species, one of which, scale broom (Lepidospartum burgessii), was eligible for federal endangered species status. The sand dunes also contained numerous archeological sites. The study pointed out that the west side of the park provided a good area for winter visitors. Temperatures were more moderate than in the Guadalupe Pass and high country areas, and in the spring, blooming wildflowers and less severe winds made the desert area especially appealing. A private landowner had donated the right-of-way for a road to be built by Hudspeth County connecting Dell City with the park boundary, south of the main dune field. The county consulted with park managers and officials from the regional office before selecting the route for the road. [7]


Last Updated: 23-Apr-2001