By: Roz Brown, Public News Service
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A 120-year-old idea to make New Mexico’s White Sands National Monument a national park could be realized before the end of the year.
The wave-like dunes of gypsum sand cover 275 square miles of desert in southern New Mexico and attract thousands of visitors each year.
Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-New Mexico, says the park designation was included in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 and approved by the U.S. Senate on Wednesday.
Heinrich hopes the designation will improve the economies of towns that surround White Sands.
“When I talk to people from all around the country, oftentimes they don’t know the breadth and diversity of our state, and White Sands in southern New Mexico’s brand,” he points out. “It is unique in the world.”
Heinrich says President Donald Trump has agreed to sign the legislation.
The idea of making White Sands a national park dates back to 1898 but failed when the Interior Department objected to the inclusion of a hunting preserve there. It has been designated as a national monument since 1933.
In addition to a name change, the legislation clears the way for a land swap between the National Park Service and the U.S. Army, according to Rep. Xochitl Torres Small of New Mexico. She says that it will enhance missions at White Sands Missile Range.
“Because it gives the United States Army and White Sands Missile Range additional land necessary for our national security,” she explains. “In return, the park will be expanded to include land that the United States Army and White Sands Missile Range no longer intend to use.”
White Sands National Monument is 65 miles north of the White Sands Missile Range, where testing of the first atomic bomb took place in 1945.
Torres Small says the designation of White Sands as a national park also could allow more resources and staffing options for the 275-acre monument.