melissa i strong
rock climber, writer, photographer, working on life daily
Facts & Some Speculation About What is Going on With the Future of Hueco Tanks:
• The Public Use Plan, PUP, in Hueco Tanks is being reviewed in a series of meetings for suggested changes.
• The PUP review meetings were sparked by unrest driven by a former park ranger, Alex Mares, about locals not being able to get into the park. Alex and his collaborators have claimed that rock climbers were dominating the park and therefore locals could not use their park. Claiming falsities including rock climbers are disrespectful, that they are monopolizing and hurting the park, the vegetation and the rock.
o Alex Mares was lead park ranger at Hueco during the 80’s-90’s. He has been and is outspoken against climbers. He quit and longer works for the park.
o The PUP put in place in 1998 has been very effective in preserving the Park’s cultural and natural resources.
o Climbers in the past 18 years have been stewards to the park, raising money to donate to the park, organizing cleanups and educational programs.
• Initially, Alex Mares and his group appealed to Senator Jose Rodriguez who represents District 29 in El Paso, TX. The Senator listened and took action, without consulting with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, TPWD, calling a public meeting in July of 2014 to discuss people’s opinion about visiting Hueco Tanks, their use and access experience.
• During the 3rd PUP review meeting Alex suggested there be a “moratorium on climbing” during this review process—later that night during the March public meeting Mares states that, “no Native American people, including himself, has asked for a ban on climbing,” quote from Alex Mares during the public meeting from a recorded sound bit.
o Alex Mares is attending the PUP meetings as a representative of Senator’s Rodriguez office on the heritage & tourism committee.
• Representative Mary Gonzalez is also working in conjunction with the Senator and Mares. Gonzalez submitted House Bill 988 for review that states: “The Parks and Wildlife Department shall conduct a study to examine the need for and feasibility of establishing a visitors center at Hueco Tanks State Park in El Paso County. The department shall collaborate with the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo [Tiguas] in planning for the development of the visitor’s center site.” https://legiscan.com/TX/text/HB988/2015, https://legiscan.com/TX/text/HB988/id/1095620
• Senator Jose Rodriguez, State Representative Thompson and Rep. Mary Gonzalez all authored a resolution, “proposing a constitutional amendment authorizing gaming on tribal lands belonging to the Alabama-Coushatta Tribes of Texas and the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo (also known as the Tigua Indian Tribe).”
• The PUP review meetings will come to a conclusion in June, “Our goal is to have a document by the end of June. Realistically it may be mid-July before the document is finished. As far as time line of implementation . . . that will be a gradual process. There is not an established implementation date for any recommendations rising out of this process….any changes that require additional funding or staffing will be dependent on the availability of those items.” Christopher Beckom, PGR Manager, Park Planner at TPWD.
• Sen. Jose Rodriguez and Representative Mary Gonzalez will review the final report. “The report and its contents are only recommendations, not mandates, to TPWD. As such it will be TPWD|SP’s prerogative regarding the implementation of any recommendations.” Christopher Beckom
• “TPWD has stated publicly, and will remain steady in our position, that no existing user groups or activities will be excluded from the park as a result of this planning effort.” Christopher Beckom’
• Wanda Olszewsik is leaving the position of superintendent of Hueco Tanks. She is starting June 1st as the complex manager of Ft. Davis. Wanda helped write the original PUP plan and has fought for all user groups to keep enjoying Hueco Tanks. She has been seeking a transfer/new job for the past few years.
• Concessions will be made to keep people happy—this will possible mean no chalk or will it mean more people allowed on North Mountain, more picnic spots for local El Pasoins, unrestricted access for Native Americans, a new visitor office and hopefully easier to use check in facilities , more educational programs…
• The Texas House Bill 988 was submitted and the Tiguas offered their land to be used for the new interpretive center—TPWD said no.
• Do the Tiguas want to build a casino on their land that boarders Hueco Tanks?
• Did they initially offer to build the new interpretative center on their land so they can exploit the historical resources of Hueco Tanks using it as an attraction to get people into their casino?
The next meeting is May 21st and is on recreation. During this meeting all members of the PUP review will make suggestions on future access regarding recreating in Hueco Tanks.