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

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Part II: Ghost Ranch - Deriving Caution From Another National Natural Landmark

There are 12 National Natural Landmarks (NNL) in New Mexico. The one most developed, privately owned Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, NM, was chosen in 1976 as a NNL for its outstandingly well-preserved coelophysis fossils, a carnivorous dinosaur.

Its Ruth Hall Museum of Paleontology offers education and outreach about coelophysis to 2000-3000 school children each year. In addition, as "an education and retreat center of The Presbyterian Church (USA)", it offers many educational courses on diverse subjects and groups can schedule "a conference or workshop or family reunion."

Ghost Ranch has modest overnight facilities which include "bed and breakfast" style accommodations and camping. Other developments are the Florence Hawley Ellis Museum of Anthropology, a gift shop, a dining hall, a snack bar, a library, and the Piedra Lumbre Education and Visitor center.

Activities include hiking, horseback riding, tours of the ranch (there is a winter cattle grazing program), tours of Georgia O'Keeffe's Ghost Ranch home, a ropes course, and swimming.

The Director's Update May 2009 reveals that while doing well overall, they have made changes, due to both the economic downturn and the seasonal nature of visitation at Ghost Ranch. These included job cuts and downsizing of jobs. Other economic realities are that they are losing customers because they do not have enough single rooms to meet the demand. The Director says Ghost Ranch has years of deferred maintenance and facility improvements which need to be done.

Large groups grappling with their own budget restraints have canceled meetings at Ghost Ranch this year although others were found to fill the space. As of May 2009, Ghost Ranch was "...under budget in groups and meetings revenue." The Director says that Glorieta Baptist Conference Center has gone from operating year around to a summer-time only schedule. Ghost Ranch will try to attract bookings of groups that would have gone to Glorieta in the off-season.

Despite the reality of these economic times, the emphasis on development at Ghost Ranch has always been on service to people and community. Educational outreach is very much a part of this.The Director's Update mentions that school districts' budget cuts have meant less buses bringing school groups to visit their museums. But this has dissuaded Ghost Ranch not at all - museum staff now take their programs to the school children.

Ghost Ranch is a mere 21,000 acres compared to Valles Caldera National Preserve's (VCNP) 89,000 acres yet its smaller size does not make it immune from rebound effects of present economic crisis. Think how much harder it will be to make an 89,000 acre development financially self-sufficient in these trying economic times.

Alternatives D and E (VCNP PDF download of Overview Narrative) of 5 conceptual alternatives being presented in the Valles Caldera Trust's (VCT) Public Access and Use Plan (PAUP) are quite costly over a 10 year period in capital investment needed. Each require an investment of $143 million spread out over the next 10 years and each need $12 million in annual operating costs. Even alternative C would need $88 million in capital investments with annual operating costs of $10 million. Is this the right economic climate in which to begin a costly development centered around people traveling long distances to visit and stay overnight at the Preserve?

Please visit the VCNP website for information about the different ways you can submit comments on development at the Preserve. If you feel that the comment page they have set up is daunting and can't attend either of the two public workshops (VCNP PDF download of public workshops flyer), then please email or snail mail your comments to the VCT (comments@vallescaldera.gov or surface mail to Valles Caldera Trust, P.O. Box 359, Jemez Springs, NM 87025).

The VCNP's online comment page will be up at least through the end of September and maybe until mid-October, depending on public interest. After that, the 5 development alternatives will be narrowed and refined based on public comment received. Then, the revised alternatives will be analyzed on the VCNP website.

To be kept apprised of the planning process that will determine how the public will be able to access and use the Valles Caldera National Preserve in the future, please sign up for the Mailing Lists on the VCNP website.

If you absolutely have no time for commenting but want to see reasonable and fair access by the public of the Valles Caldera National Preserve, at least consider joining Caldera Action which will tirelessly advocate for better management and protection of the VCNP on your behalf. If you believe, as Caldera Action does, that the Valles Caldera National Preserve should be managed as a National Park Preserve, please let your congresspersons know of your concerns (Senate; House of Representatives).

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Los Alamos, New Mexico, United States