But before these lands were designated as a national monument, they were under constant threat from a wide range of modern-day activities. From urban sprawl to potential mining; from proposals for energy development to an explosion of off-road vehicles, these lands needed the protections that only a national monument could provide to ensure future generations could continue to enjoy them.
While attendance at the park has exploded — the number of visitors has doubled since becoming a national monument — what those many visitors likely don’t realize is that Land and Water Conservation Fund played an important role in making OMDP a reality as it was instrumental in the acquisition of land to extend the monument.
While LWCF left its mark on the national monument, LWCF has quietly transformed Las Cruces and New Mexico by supporting state and local parks throughout the Land of Enchantment. From Soledad Canyon that leads you into the Organ Mountains to Apodaca Park that provides green space in the city of Las Cruces, you’re likely minutes away from a place touched by LWCF.
In fact since its passage in 1964, LWCF has supported more than 1,000 parks and projects, including more than 60 in Doña Ana County. In total, $312 million has been invested in New Mexico’s parks through this program — at no cost to taxpayers.
LWCF funds are provided through royalties collected on offshore oil and gas drilling. While the annual amount is capped at $900 million — a tiny drop in the federal budget bucket — Congress is responsible for allocating the funds each year. It shouldn’t be a shock to anyone that Congress has fully funded LWCF only twice in its 54-year history.
The program’s impact and zero taxpayer burden makes permanently funding LWCF a commonsense decision. Earlier this year, the Senate and the House overwhelmingly supported the permanent reauthorization of LWCF, but work is still being done to pass legislation that will secure permanent, full funding for the program.
This is why we need our New Mexican members of Congress to step up. Sens. Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall and Rep. Xochitl Torres Small supported the bill for permanent reauthorization of LWCF and now they need to make sure that it is permanently funded. This will help ensure that the numerous LWCF-supported public parks of New Mexico are accessible now and for future generations.
These local parks are important to me because they offer a place for Latino families to share quality time with one another. A 2018 report from Hispanic Access Foundation found that LWCF sites are often the only means to access the outdoors for Latino and other diverse communities. From parks, pools, trails, sports fields and cultural centers, LWCF has left an undeniable mark on the city of Las Cruces. It’s up to Congress to make sure that tradition continues.
Brenda Gallegos is associate director of Friends of Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks.