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Tenth anniversary of Organ Mountain monument celebrated


The people of Las Cruces and surrounding communities have “a deep pride and a shared ownership” in the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument and its cultural and economic impacts for the region have far exceeded all expectations, U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., said as hundreds of stakeholders, elected officials and outdoor enthusiasts gathered at the Las Cruces Convention Center to celebrate the monument’s 10th anniversary on May 18.

President Barack Obama signed federal legislation creating the monument on May 21, 2014 at the White House, praising Heinrich and former New Mexico U.S. Sens. Tom Udall and Jeff Bingaman, “who were instrumental in preserving this treasured landscape,” Obama said.

The nearly 500,000-acre monument, located less than 30 minutes west of downtown Las Cruces on Dripping Springs Road, includes five mountain ranges; hiking, biking and horseback-riding trails; thousands of archeological sites, including Kilbourne Hole (volcanic crater) National Historic Landmark, the Aden Lava Flow Wilderness and 22 miles of the historic Butterfield Stagecoach Trail; the Chihuahuan Desert habitat and its unique wildlife and landscape; training sites for Apollo astronauts; bombing sites used to train World War II pilots; and “some of the most strikingly beautiful places on earth,” Heinrich said at the celebration.

The monument also includes 10 wilderness areas added in 2019, as the “strong and broad coalition of local supporters” that helped to create the monument “keep building on what we achieved in the designation,” Heinrich said.

Heinrich singled out the late David Soules during his keynote speech at the celebration, saying the Las Cruces author and New Mexico Game Commission member’s “eye for detail (and) behind-the-scenes work” were vital in mapping OMDP’s natural wonders, cultural resources and historic sites.

Soules’ brother, state Sen. Bill Soules, D-Las Cruces, attended the celebration, along with former Las Cruces city councilor Kassandra Gandara, to whom he is married. Also attending were new Las Cruces City Manager Ikani Taumoepeau and state Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Doña Ana, who is executive director of Outdoor New Mexico and was a leader in establishing the monument.

 “It is your monument, not the government’s, not the BLM’s (U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which manages OMDP),” said state Sen. Carrie Hamblen, D-Las Cruces, who, as president and CEO of the Green Chamber of Commerce of Las Cruces, was also a strong voice in support of monument designation.

The economic impact of the monument has “exceeded our initial predictions by 51 percent,” Hamblen said. Many local businesses were created because of the monument’s designation and have not only reaped its economic benefits, but also have become “thoughtful stewards” of OMDP, which is celebrated in Las Cruces, Mesilla and other communities with a cocktail, a cupcake and a host of other specialties – and businesses – named in its honor.

Aaron Marquez of Mesilla Valley Search and Rescue is seen during the May 18 celebration of the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument in Las Cruces.
Aaron Marquez of Mesilla Valley Search and Rescue is seen during the May 18 celebration of the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument in Las …

Visitation to the region has tripled since pre-monument 2012, Heinrich said. A study commissioned by the Green Chamber and published last fall estimated the total economic impact at $234 million over ten years.

“I am so proud of how far we’ve come in a decade,” Heinrich said, and “even more excited about where we will go.”

“The work never stops,” said Patrick Nolan, executive director of the nonprofit Friends of Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks, which hosted the 10th-anniversary celebration.  The monument’s continuing mission includes creating “the next generation of public lands stewards,” Nolan said, protecting more land in southern New Mexico and ensuring public access to protected areas for current and future generations.

Las Cruces city councilor Johana Bencomo was the evening’s master of ceremonies. Bencomo and Nolan, who is also a member of the Las Cruces Public Schools Board of Education, are married.

The celebration included live and silent auctions, along with Nolan’s recognition of five local public lands champions: Mesilla Valley Search and Rescue, Doña Ana Search and Rescue, the Organ Mountain Technical Rescue Squad, the Las Cruces Fire Department and Visit Las Cruces, the city’s tourism and visitors’ bureau.

Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument, U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, 500, 000-acre monument