An Administrative History
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The Resource Management Plans developed for the park reflect the breadth and depth of issues and problems to be considered in the management of a park established to preserve natural values. During the first fifteen years of the operation of Guadalupe Mountains National Park the list of issues relating to natural resources grew and grew as more research was completed and resource managers obtained a better understanding of the ecology of the park. The discussion that follows focuses on issues that have received particular attention since the establishment of the park. Although the issues are approached individually, they are interrelated and management of one resource affects the management of many others.

Water Resources

Previous chapters on planning and development revealed the importance of water to Guadalupe Mountains National Park. Water to support extensive development never was immediately available, nor was it easy to locate, as experiences at Pine Springs and Dog Canyon showed. However, for centuries before the creation of a national park on the land, humans utilized the natural water sources found there. During the 1970s, researchers identified nine permanent springs on the park lands and 28 wells in or near the park. Archeological investigations in the park revealed the presence of temporary camps made by prehistoric peoples near the springs. As Americans moved westward, El Capitan served as a landmark for both a passage through the mountains and a source of water for desert travelers. Later, ranchers settled near the natural springs. As their operations grew, they sank shallow wells, installed windmills and stock tanks, and developed networks of pipelines to carry water to unwatered areas where their livestock grazed. For less pragmatic reasons, Wallace Pratt sank a well in McKittrick Canyon, to provide water for the stone cabin that served as his sanctuary. [1]

As described in Chapter VIII, the Park Service developed new wells to provide water for the park facilities. A well at Signal Peak provided water for the temporary residential area. The well at Pine Springs provided water for the residential and maintenance areas, the campground, the temporary visitor center and operations headquarters, and the Frijole ranch complex. New wells also were drilled for the developments in Dog Canyon and McKittrick Canyon.

While developing new water sources, park managers also continued use of several wells that existed at the time of acquisition of the park. In 1978, Red Well and PX Well, on the west side of the park, were cleaned out to provide water for wildlife and emergency water for hikers and park personnel. Red Well operated with a submersible pump, the PX Well by a windmill. A utility-purpose well existed at Salt Flat, on one of the sections detached from the park. In 1987, the wells at the Pratt Cabin and the Ship on the Desert continued to function. [2]

In accordance with the wilderness values of the park, one of the early goals of the park's resource managers was restoration of the natural conditions of the springs within the park. By 1987, except for a concrete retaining wall remaining at Manzanita Spring, all springs had been restored, as nearly as possible, to their natural conditions. In 1975, after removing an impoundment device and pipelines, work began to channel visitor use and protect the delicate plants associated with Smith Spring, located a short distance from the Frijole ranch site on a trail that received a considerable amount of traffic. Park personnel installed a flagstone walk, curbing, and wooden guardrail to prevent visitors from walking above the spring and polluting the water. At Upper Dog Canyon and Upper Guadalupe Springs, spring boxes were removed. Until 1986, Frijole Spring, which had been developed during the ranching era, provided water to the Frijole site. In 1986 connection of the ranch house complex to the Pine Springs water system permitted abandonment of use of Frijole Spring. [3]

Resource managers recognized that while restoration of the natural condition of the springs in the park was necessary to return the land to its natural state, the wildlife of the park might be adversely affected by the change. They speculated that removal of the system of pipelines and tanks built by ranchers might have a negative influence on the populations of deer and elk in the park, and, continuing the domino effect, might affect the numbers and activities of predators. The number of elk in the park had been declining steadily, however, for more than thirty years. In 1984 wildlife managers estimated that perhaps only 70 or 80 elk remained in the park, relatives of the herd of elk established by J.C. Hunter. During the 1950s the herd size was estimated to be 300; by 1978 it had been reduced to 125. Although other factors also contributed, wildlife managers suggested that water supply probably was the most important factor limiting the size of the elk herd. [4]

Besides the natural springs and seeps supporting the flora and fauna of the park, there is also one perennial stream in the park, McKittrick Creek. The mere existence of the stream in an arid region is significant. In addition, the aquatic fauna associated with the stream are typical of more northerly streams, lending support to the theory that McKittrick represents an isolated relict of a montane climate. Because of the fragility of the surface water resources and their exposure to contamination from increased human use of the parklands, resource managers sought a way to preserve the quality and quantity of water flowing in the park. To that end, in 1979, researchers from Texas Tech designed a water sampling scheme and established sampling locations at five places in McKittrick Canyon and at five major springs--Smith, Manzanita, Choza, Frijole, and Upper Pine--thus initiating long-term monitoring of certain parameters of water quality. [5]


Last Updated: 23-Apr-2001