For decades, El Pasoans have been working to preserve 7,000 acres in Castner Range. It's time the rest of Texas understood why this piece of land should matter to us all and how national monument status will protect it.
Famous for its fields of yellow poppies, Castner Range is located in the heart of the Franklin Mountains and has provided West Texans with stunning views, mountainous terrain and a fresh water supply from unexpected natural springs in an urban desert setting. In the early 1900s, hikers, climbers and visitors to the range explored primitive roads, trails and wilderness. A national monument designation will solidify a footprint for the world's largest binational community and our nation's growing Latino constituency.
On Saturday, U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke hosted a public meeting for Obama Administration officials, who were greeted by nearly 1,500 El Pasoans representing the broad coalition of advocates working to preserve the area. Lawmakers, business owners, conservationists, and faith and veteran groups have called on President Obama to designate the Range a national monument to preserve not just a precious piece of land, but a piece of Texas history.
Commercial development to Castner Range is a constant threat. Business expansion continues to encroach along the western side while the northeast is separated from commercial business only by a U.S. highway. Establishing it as a national monument will protect it forever, ensuring the safety of the water, air, wildlife, vegetation and other resources that spring from this fragile and breathtaking land.
As recently as last month, a study by the Frontera Land Alliance identified at least 40 archaeological and historical sites within the Range, including collections of petroglyphs, remnants of failed tin mining operations and small stone structures and pottery. Geology and ecology students at UT-El Paso conduct field studies on the Range.
Designating Castner Range a national monument will offer myriad benefits, not just to El Paso residents but to all Texans. A designation would open up the area to hiking, biking, camping and exploration. It would increase educational opportunities and tourism for the area and create new jobs. And it would protect a historically significant and environmentally sensitive piece of land from development.
Castner Range was originally an army weapon firing range, and the fight to preserve Castner started in the late 1970s, about a dozen years after weapons firing came to a halt because the neighborhoods of El Paso had grown up around portions of the Range. In 1978, an owner of the Franklin Mountains tried to bulldoze the top of North Franklin Mountain to build a communications tower. The backlash led to the creation of Franklin Mountains State Park a year later, and boundaries were adjusted soon after to include the entire Castner Range.
Since then, members of Congress, city council members, county commissioners and state lawmakers have secured grants, passed resolutions and introduced legislation to ensure the Range is protected. In December 2015, O'Rourke filed a resolution seeking national monument status for Castner Range. Volunteers have collected thousands of signatures – 25,000 were announced this August as we celebrated the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service.
El Pasoans have worked hard over many decades to secure Castner's future, and now to gain national monument status. It's time for the rest of Texas to stand with El Pasoans and show President Obama we want to save the range and preserve it for all Texans.
With only a few weeks in session before the end of the year, Congress is unlikely to vote on Rep. O'Rourke's bill. A presidential designation of Castner Range before President Obama's term expires is the most promising shot we have at saving this Texas treasure. We can't afford to start over with a new administration.
The Texas League of Conservation Voters is leading the effort to extend the collection of signatures beyond West Texas and asking millions more to add their name to the petition. Let's send a clear message to President Obama: It's time to save Castner Range for all Texans.
Visit http://castnerrangenationalmonument.org/letter-of-support to sign the letter of support and help us preserve Castner Range forever.