This blog is about hiking trips along the Valles Caldera Rim. For more information, see link for the Valles Caldera Rim Trail blog.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Just Another Valles Caldera National Preserve Conundrum

On page 44 of the Valles Caldera Trust 2008 Report to Congress, the Trust admits that:

Public use and access to the Preserve for its recreational, scenic, cultural, scientific, educational, and spiritual values is likely the cornerstone for financial self sufficiency.


But on page 41 of the report, the Trust really wishes that there weren't quite so many people at the public meetings who express such strong desire for the very condition the Trust admits will allow the Preserve pay for itself:

Expand attendance and participation at public meetings of the Board of Trustees
Objective
Ensure participation by a broad spectrum of stakeholders

Metric

Number and affiliation of attendees

Narrative

Public board meetings are attended by a contingent of groups and individuals with an avid
interest and passion for the management of the Preserve especially for access and recreation.
The Board would like broader representation from stakeholders with interests in the
environment, science, ranching, education, and other areas of interest and management
concern.


So, on the one hand, the Valles Caldera Trust admits that allowing the public to use and access the Preserve is the key to financial self sustainability; on the other hand, they'd truly prefer not to hear so much about the public's deep desire to finally be allowed more freedom to use and access the Preserve.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Valles Caldera Trust Needs More Congressional Oversight

Dear Representative Ben Lujan and Senators Jeff Bingaman and Tom Udall:

I'm very frustrated with the current management system at the Valles Caldera National Preserve. It has been almost 9 years since the Preserve was created in July 2000 and the hiking public is still no closer to having freedom of movement within the Preserve. There are only a limited number of fee hikes that are available in the interior of the Preserve, for which hikers must make a reservation, be driven in a Preserve van to the trailhead and given a time by which they must end their hike.

Due to deteriorating snow conditions, winter recreation ended March 1 this year, making it only a two months long season because the Preserve closed its gates the whole month of December. Checking the VCNP calendar, no recreation programs are scheduled until May 21. In the meantime, hikers in Los Alamos are enjoying hikes in the Santa Fe National Forest and Bandelier National Monument but we must remain locked out of the Preserve until the end of May. Why can't I buy an annual pass to hike on the Preserve? If they are afraid that private vehicles will do damage to their roads, why not let us hike in from the edges of the Preserve, displaying proof of an annual pass in our parked vehicles like they do in Bandelier?

The Valles Caldera Trust (VCT) in their Annual Report to Congress 2008 claim that they have already fulfilled various requirements of the Valles Caldera Preservation Act 2000. The Trust asserts that the requirement for a comprehensive management plan mandated in Section 108 (d) of the Preservation Act was fulfilled with the July 2003 publication of the Trust's NEPA procedures. NEPA procedures provide a legal framework within which to develop plans but publishing NEPA procedures and calling it a comprehensive management plan seems a semantic ploy so the Trust can say it has fulfilled that requirement of the Preservation Act. The proof that the Trust doesn't truly have a comprehensive plan is that since 2002, the public has only been allowed on the Preserve on an interim basis. We don't yet have a permanent right to enjoy recreation on the Preserve. The Trust promises planning this year for public use and access but, truthfully, I don't hold out hope that much will change to fulfill the public's desire for more freedom to explore this beautiful land. If the Valles Caldera National Preserve were under the forest service or the national park service, we would by now have more freedom to access it.

Also in their 2008 annual report to Congress, they state that they have fulfilled the requirement found in Section 111 (b) of the Preservation Act to submit a plan for annual decreasing congressional appropriations toward the goal of achieving financial self-sufficiency. But the so-called plan that they refer to, found in Appendix B of the 2005 Framework and Strategic Guidance for Comprehensive Management, does not even mention specific dollar amounts! That they could assert this in an annual report to Congress and no one has called them to account for it shows that they have not had careful oversight.

This year the final GAO Report on progress at the Preserve will be released. In the November 2005 interim report, Valles Caldera Trust Has Made Some Progress, but Needs to Do More to Meet Statutory Goals, the GAO stipulated that the Trust should take steps to come into compliance with the Government Corporation Control Act which mandates annual independent financial audits of government corporations. It is only this year that the Trust says it will finally release independent financial audits for 2004-2007 and 2008. The Trust's finances are another area in need of more congressional oversight to ensure that they have not been reckless with the public's money.

Recently, the New Mexico Legislature passed Senate Memorial 32 which calls upon New Mexico's congressional delegation to hold hearings to reconsider the present management system at the Valles Caldera National Preserve. I hope that you will soon do that. The present system isn't working.

Respectfully and sincerely.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Valles Caldera National Preserve and the Presidio: Not Much in Common

The Valles Caldera National Preserve (VCNP) is often compared to the Presidio because both are managed by trusts created by Congress. Other than that, there are few other similarities. The VCNP has an expansive 89,000 acres while the Presidio consists of a puny 1,491. The VCNP has a few decaying buildings which badly need infusions of cash to make them ready for visitors while the Presidio has 768 buildings they inherited from the National Park Service as well as plentiful parking and roads. The VCNP is land-rich but, other than the stunning scenery, amenity poor while the Presidio burgeons with money-making assets on its strikingly green piece of oceanfront property in highly urbanized San Francisco.

The management of the Presidio is unique because the Presidio Trust in July 1998 took over management of Area B, which is the non-coastal interior 80% of the Presidio while the NPS retained management over the shoreline of the Presidio, the remaining 20% which is called Area A.

The May 2002 Presidio Trust Management Plan divides Area B into different planning districts, each with a slightly different focus such as educational, cultural and lodging. Crissy Field, for instance, is pure recreational open space while the Main Post, "Heart of the Presidio", functions as an area to orient visitors.

In the VCNP's upcoming planning for public use and access this year, would it be possible for the Valles Caldera National Preserve to also establish different use areas within the Preserve? Some of these areas could be purely for making money - perhaps a resort destination in an area of the caldera that is easily accessible from the main highway, NM4. Other more isolated areas of the Preserve could be reserved for uses that are more primitive like dispersed camping.

Perhaps the VCNP could even have different areas of the Preserve under different management like in the Presidio. What if, for instance, the Santa Fe National Forest managed the perimeter of the caldera, including the Valles Caldera rim, for primitive, wilderness uses while the Valles Caldera Trust (VCT) managed the interior, more developed areas of the Valles Caldera for intensive tourist use?

Looking at the Presidio's website, it appears that open space recreation is free. Since they have other lucrative venues that make beaucoup bucks - rent and lease of residences (1,147 housing units) and office space - they can afford not to charge.

The problem for the Preserve is that there is no ready source of the annual, large amounts of cash that are required to attain financial self sufficiency without first making a huge investment to build a destination resort with a visitor center and parking and all the amenities that top-paying tourists require. One worry is that such a development would spoil and endanger the natural beauty and natural resources of the Preserve. In the 2009 session of the New Mexico Legislature, Senate Memorial 32 has been introduced by Tim Eichenberg. This calls upon the New Mexico congressional delegation to hold hearings to reconsider the present management of the Valles Caldera National Preserve because it is not allowing people fair access to the Preserve; because of this, recreation and economic opportunities are being lost to New Mexicans.

One characteristic that both the VCNP and the Presidio have in common is no lack of dissatisfaction among the public. There is controversy over decisions of the Presidio Trust just as much as there is dissatisfaction about how things are going at the Preserve. The Los Alamos Monitor is running a two part article by Dave Menicucci, Albuquerque based freelance writer, on frustrations of New Mexicans with the current regime in place at the Preserve. Part one, cleverly titled Frustrations with Valles Caldera erupt into public debate, appeared on Sunday, March 1, 2009. Part two is slated to appear on Tuesday, March 3, 2009. It makes very interesting reading for those of us who have waited so long (if impatiently!) for untrammeled access to the Valles Caldera National Preserve!

I hope in the future that the situation at the Valles Caldera National Preserve changes and allows wider and fairer access to people but, for the meantime, I truly envy the people of San Francisco because the Presidio welcomes people to use its open spaces and the Presidio Trust is well on its way to achieving independence from federal appropriations by 2013.

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Los Alamos, New Mexico, United States