Valles Caldera National Park Preserve — finally! 

photo of Valles Caldera Preserve ceremony

Jody Benson,
Pajarito Group Newsletter editor

Congratulations on your victory. In 1980, Pat Dunnigan — who had protected the 89,000 acres of the Valles Caldera Baca location from development and even offered to sell it cheap to the Park Service in the late 1970s (blocked by Congress) — died. His sons held onto the Baca for almost two decades, but in 1998 they met with the ranch investors to discuss building a ski resort with home sites, stores, and a racetrack.

Local Sierran Jennifer Johnson was paying attention. She organized the volunteer effort to lobby our senators and representatives to save the Valle Grande. These volunteers spent months handing out postcards at every pullout in the Caldera and ensured that Congress received them. It was out of this effort that the Pajarito Group was born.

In 2000, U.S. Senators Pete Domenici and Jeff Bingaman led the acquisition, and, supported by President Bill Clinton, convinced the U.S. Congress to purchase the Caldera. The Caldera was saved from development; however, the for-profit status precluded public access. The Pajarito Group joined other organizations to continue to lobby for access by the taxpayers, who actually paid for the land.

On October 10, 2015, after 17 years of your grassroots efforts, after the failed for-profit model with little public access, our national delegation (Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich and Representative Ben Ray Luján) succeeded in moving the Valles Caldera into the status of National Park Preserve. It is the 19th parcel of public land designated as Park Preserve status. This means that you can hike, bike, ski, ride your horse, camp, fish, hunt, and take tours to access much of the 89,000 acres. After all your patient years of letter writing, lobbying, attending meetings, sending comments — finally, you win.

On October 10, the U.S. Park Service held its transfer ceremony. The Pajarito Group and the Northern New Mexico Group were among the representatives who were both supporting the event and being honored by it.

When you stand on the rim and gaze across the vista of your land, enjoy that swell of pride that you feel for knowing you were responsible for saving this land for all our grandchildren.

Photo: Interior Secretary Sally Jewell with Pajarito Group Executive Committee member Nona Girardi at the transfer ceremony for Valles Caldera. By Dave Pacheco.