Whtie Sands
Administrative History
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That year marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of the first atomic test in the New Mexico desert. Since the NPS had helped the Army in 1965 to create national landmark status for Trinity, the park service had relied upon White Sands personnel to prepare a case for park status. In March 1970, Jack Turney and other NPS officials released a "master plan" for Trinity that estimated attendance at 150,000 annually. The plan called for construction of a visitors center about six miles south of Ground Zero (the "South 10,000" bunker site), where patrons would receive interpretative information and have access to NPS facilities. A road would be paved from the center to the McDonald ranch house, where the final assembly of the atomic device would be depicted. From there the visitor would drive the two to three miles north to the bomb crater, which would require reconstruction in light of Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) contract work in the 1950s to remove the trinitite. Hiking trails would fan out from Ground Zero to other observation bunkers, and exit routes would take visitors north to U.S. Highway 380, completing the trek across the old "Jornada del Muerto" of Spanish renown. [7]

Jack Turney recalled years later the irony of Trinity and the 1970s. The concept had been blocked for a generation by military domination of the Tularosa basin; a condition that would doom the 25th anniversary plan. Contributing to its demise, however , was an unlikely partner to the military: antinuclear and antiwar protestors. The spring of 1970 witnessed convulsions of dissent on American college campuses, first against the "secret" bombing of Cambodia ordered by President Richard M. Nixon, and then the shooting by Ohio National Guard troops on May 4 of four young people at Kent State University, itself the target of antiwar demonstrations. The NPS believed that public attention drawn to the atomic bomb in the midst of such upheaval would only generate more violence, and thus quietly shelved a plan that the U.S. Army, itself the focus of antiwar demonstrators, had never wanted in the first place. [8]

Because Schneider-Hector failed to chronicle the troubled journey of Trinity Site as a national park unit in the midst of the WSMR, his analysis of the wilderness study for White Sands requires some reinterpretation. The 1964 wilderness legislation had prompted in 1971 the "roadless area" studies known as RARE (Roadless Area Review and Evaluation). The national parks under director George Hartzog had moved to classify the recreational, aesthetic, and ecological value of units such as White Sands. The park included 118,700 acres of potential RARE consideration (primarily Alkali Flat and the dunes), and merited the category of "Class IV," defined as an "outstanding natural area." Other parks in the region also had lands eligible for creation of wilderness areas: Bandelier, Great Sand Dunes, and Carlsbad Caverns. Thus supporters of the "roadless area" concept called for public hearings to gain support for the principle of preservation over development. [9]

The discrepancy between Jack Turney's memory and Schneider-Hector's reading of the evidence shows the challenge of grasping the meaning of White Sands, whether historically or scientifically. In 1972 the superintendent held a public meeting in Alamogordo to present details of the wilderness study plan. Schneider-Hector admitted that the majority of attendees did not reside in the Tularosa basin, which explained the majority vote in support of the plan. When Turney approached the local chamber of commerce, its members pointed out the clause that called for "a complete military evacuation of the Tularosa basin." While Schneider-Hector saw this as merely dependence upon military spending, the chamber viewed it as a threat to local control of the monument. The organization, whose ranks had included Tom Charles and Johnwill Faris, rejected the plan, and prevailed upon Frank Kowski, SWR director, to do the same in his report to Washington. Jack Turney did not see this action as Schneider-Hector described it ("a startling revelation") given his experience with the imperatives of national security and the desire of local boosters to sustain their connections to the Pentagon. He considered it a success that negotiations with WSMR removed 30,000 acres around Lake Lucero from targeting by "intentional impacts." Thus it is surprising to read Schneider-Hector's criticism of the NPS as weak and naive, then hear him say that "the military prevented the private and commercial exploitation and despoliation of the land surrounding the monument and its resources." [10]

expanded museum displays
Figure 56. Expanded museum displays in Visitors Center (1970s).
(Courtesy White Sands National Monument)

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Last Updated: 22-Jan-2001