New Mexico’s White Sands Is Bidding to Be the US’s 61st National Park

It's like a giant beach. Minus the water.

May 8, 2018 9:00 am

A quick refresher on the distinction between National Monuments and National Parks (which, unfortunately, was never explained by a Schoolhouse Rock! segment):

Monument is a catch-all for culturally relevant and federally protected memorials and parks, as designated by the executive branch, who can both establish them or take them away. Parks, meanwhile, are those great big outdoor playgrounds we know and love, as designated by Congress.

It’s a significant distinction in terms of designation, relevance and protection (not to mention economic output), and one that now faces New Mexico’s White Sands National Monument, which is up for a vote on potential redesignation this Friday.

The legislation, introduced by New Mexico Senator Martin Heinrich, wants to upgrade White Sands to National Park status, in an effort to jumpstart the area’s economy. And Headwater Economics, an independent nonpartisan research group, just released a report validating the argument: they estimate the change will usher in some $8M in new spending, 100 new jobs and over $3M in labor. Their research is rooted in numbers, but really just one look at the place — sledding down dunes of gypsum crystals, anyone? — suggests the transition would attract plenty of visitors.

For those concerned that an uptick in tourists (an expected 100,000 more per annum) might harm the area, keep in mind President Trump’s erratic and ill-advised actions late last year, which led to unlawful land rollbacks on several National Monuments.

If Heinrich’s bill is successful, the 224-square-mile basin would enjoy a more certain existence than is ensured at present. Over the last century, errant military missiles from a nearby army base and the unchecked growth of the invasive oryx species have threatened White Sands’ fragile ecosystem — which leads us to believe it would only flourish under the supervision of stewards who believe in its otherwordly beauty.


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