"Sustainability" is a word you might be hearing a lot lately, but what does it really mean? At its core, sustainability is the property of an ecosystem to remain diverse and productive indefinitely. It means living and enjoying our environment today without compromising future generations' ability to do the same. Sustainability has been an important part of the National Park Service Mission Statement since its inception in 1916:
"...to promote and regulate the use of the...national parks...which purpose is to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations."
As guardians of the world's largest gypsum dunefield, we at White Sands National Monument have committed to advancing our mission through sustainable operations. We aspire to maintain the beauty and wonder of the sand dunes for many multiple generations to come. As partner in the ownership of this rare natural wonder, you can help make sure this area remains as pristine and enjoyable as you found it. By following some easy steps you can help ensure the sustainability of White Sands National Monument for many years to come.
Currently public transportation does not exist from either Alamogordo or Las Cruces to access White Sands National Monument. To reduce vehicle miles, carpool with your family and friends to enjoy a day in the sands together! If you’re coming from different cities, meet and park at the visitor center or gift shop and share a ride through the 16-mile (25.75 km) round trip scenic Dunes Drive.
Use the Vault Toilets
While the visitor center offers small restroom facilities with flush toilets, the vault toilets available on Dunes Drive require no flush water. The nearest vault toilet is 4 miles (6.5 km) from the entrance gate.
Refillable Water Bottles and Reusable Bags
Refillable water bottles help reduce the amount of trash that winds up strewn about the dunefield. Their use decreases the greenhouse gas emissions associated with the production, filling, packaging, and transport of disposable water containers.
You can purchase refillable water bottles in both the gift shop and park store, and fill them up at the free filling station located by the picnic area outside the visitor center.
While at the park store, make sure to buy a reusable and beautiful White Sands shopping bag. Whenever possible, say “no thank you” when offered a disposable bag or a copy of your credit card receipts.
Zero Waste Picnic
If you are planning a picnic at the monument, we encourage you to take part in a "Zero Waste" picnic! With your help, we can reduce waste and contribute toward a more sustainable planet. You can make your picnic environmentally friendly by remembering the three R's: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.
Want to help? Here's how:
The goal of the "Zero Waste" picnic is to end up with as little leftover garbage as possible. One way to accomplish this is to manage how much food we bring. If we plan accordingly, we can bring only what we need for the day, and take leftovers home rather than throwing them in the garbage.
Reusable picnic supplies are an excellent way to help sustain our planet. Some ideas include:
Pack your lunch in reusable containers, such as a lunch box instead of a paper bag.
Put food in reusable plastic containers whenever possible.
Pack reusable plates and eating utensils instead of paper and plastic disposables.
Use a thermos for your beverages rather than single- use containers.
If you are unable to bring food or beverages in reusable containers, these goods often come in packaging that can be recycled and made into another product at a later time. White Sands National Monument recycles plastic (#1 & 2 only) and aluminum as well as other paper goods. Bins for plastic and aluminum items can be found at the visitor center and near picnic areas in the dunefield.
Bring Extra Trash and Recycling Bags
While trash and recycle bins are located in all picnic areas large groups or parties should consider bringing extra trash and recycling bags to have readily available near your picnic area. Recyclables can be sorted and trash contained making it easier for you to dispose of each in the appropriate recycling bin located by the vault toilets in the picnic areas.
While it may be unlikely to keep sand completely out of your car, it is not necessary to shower or wash off before leaving the monument. The soft gypsum sand can be easily dusted off dry!
White Sands National Monument is located in a remote desert landscape. With limited reception at the monument, your phone’s battery may quickly drain while constantly searching for a signal. Keep your phones on airplane, battery-saver, and light-saver mode while visiting. Let your family and colleagues know you are on vacation and ask them to leave you a message! If you must be available, disable airplane mode, but keep battery saver on. It is important to conserve battery life in case of an emergency.
There are no charging outlets available at the monument. Please make sure your phones and cameras are fully charged before your visit!
Preserve our Resource
Going hand in hand with sustainability is Leave No Trace, a set of outdoor ethics designed to minimize our impact by respecting and protecting our resource. Check out our Leave No Trace page to learn more about its seven principles, some of which promote sustainable goals such as disposing of waste properly, leaving what you find, and respecting nature.
Become an environmental steward by learning more about sustainability and sharing what you have learned with your friends, family, and other visitors. Encourage them not to litter or leave picnic tables dirty.
“Human waste and what we do with it can be one of the most significant impacts that faces lands used by the public for recreation,” said Ben Lawhon, Education Director for the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics.
Should you dig or carry it out? If you are using one of our backcountry sites, consider purchasing a human waste disposal bag (WAG bag) available at the park store. Carrying out your trash including human waste will lesson your impact on the backcountry camping area.
Make a Commitment and Become a Junior Ranger
Our junior ranger program is open to people of all ages! Both children and adults are welcome to participate and learn more about White Sands National Monument. As a junior ranger, you earn a badge or patch upon completion of an activity book after reciting a pledge with a park ranger. The pledge is a promise to help conserve our national park treasures. We at White Sands made that promise too. Continue reading on to learn more about our commitment to a sustainable future.
At White Sands National Monument, we strive not only to make sustainable practices available to our visitors as much as possible, but also to lead by example through our own sustainable operations management.
White Sands National Monument
Environmental Commitment Statement
As a part of the National Park System, White Sands National Monument is bound by the Organic Act of 1916 (16 U.S. Code 1), the Call to Action of 2011, and the Green Parks Plan of 2012 to conserve many of the country’s greatest natural, historical, and cultural treasures for this and future generations; moreover, to “extend that leadership to the sustainable management of our facilities and operations to fully carry out our mission of environmental stewardship.”
To that end, we, the staff at White Sands National Monument, commit to the incorporation of best environmental management practices. We strive for the sustainable use of water and other natural resources, the conservation of electric energy, the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, the purchase of sustainable products, and the diversion of landfill waste to the greatest extent possible through recycling, reuse, and donations to the community.
Further, we commit to striving for continual improvement by holding ourselves accountable to high standards beyond applicable federal and local laws and regulations concerning environmental protection, and measuring our environmental improvement by systematic tracking, checking, and adjusting methods. We will transparently set and consistently assess goals to assure short-term and long-term successes. We will lead by example and share our environmental commitment with visitors, thereby engaging them and elevating their awareness of and participation in sustainable practices beyond the parks and to their home towns.
Constantly striving for continual improvement, there is still more work for us to do. We recognize the challenging work performed by our team to get us where we are today: helping us raise the bar on sustainability! Just a few of our accomplishments include:
Our concessioner, White Sands Trading Company, earned an award on Sustainable Materials Management for their successful near elimination of food waste and environmental food service materials! Their cups, straws, napkins, and utensils are made from recycled material and are also compostable.
Western National Parks Association (WNPA) park store, our nonprofit partner, carries an extensive selection of merchandise made from recycled or renewable items as well as products that are environmentally friendly. WNPA continues to seek new and innovative ways to support the NPS’ mission of ensuring a sustainable planet.
Our division of interpretation revamped the office recycling program, resulting in an increase of 11% the first month to achieve an overall 78% diversion rate!
Our maintenance division not only ensures materials are transported to a recycling plant in Otero County, but also manages dry vault toilets and solar-powered lighting systems at the evening program area.
Our fees staff initiated plastic recycling at the fee station and encourages visitors to pack out trash by offering trash bags at the entrance gate!
Our law enforcement division replaced battery operated equipment with rechargeable equipment!
Our resources division is leading the way in land, water, and climate research on the monument to ensure that White Sands will be around for generations!