“Rising from the heart of the Tularosa Basin is one of the world’s great natural wonders – the glistening white sands of New Mexico,” says the description of White Sands National Monument on the National Park Service’s website. “Great wave-like dunes of gypsum sand have engulfed 275 square miles of desert, creating the world’s largest gypsum dunefield.”
New legislation introduced last week by U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-NM), aims to re-designate the national monument into America’s 61st national park. Dubbed the White Sands National Park Establishment Act, Heinrich laid out his reasons announcing the bill on Monday in a speech:
“The vision to create White Sands National Park has been driven by a diverse coalition of community leaders and local elected officials for years. By elevating White Sands National Monument to a national park, we can help boost the local economy and ensure the monument receives the recognition it deserves.”
And according to a report by independent nonpartisan research group Hedgewater Economics, there may be some merit to that. The report investigated eight case studies of national monuments converted to national parks and found visits increased by 21 percent, on average, in the five years after redesignation (compared to the five years before).
Consider that White Sands has seen more visitors over the last two decades than any other NPS site in New Mexico, that makes it an already attractive destination that could benefit by the status change. According to a news report from Alamogordo Daily News, “In 2016, visitors to the monument spent $29.3 million in the local economy, with 98 percent of that coming from non-local visitors.”
White Sands National Monument was established in 1933 and has become known for dune sledding, allowed within the loop portion of Dunes Drive.
If Heinrich’s bill, which is up for a potential vote this Friday, passes, it could mean big things for White Sands and the surrounding communities.
According to the Hedgewater Economics report, “Depending on how local communities advertise a new National Park and develop businesses that can capture tourist spending, a redesignation of White Sands may result in between $6.2 million and $7.5 million in new spending, 84-107 new jobs and between $2.7 million and $3.3 million in labor income.”
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