Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Staying Ahead of the Storm on Shaeffer's Shuffle

The intrepid Sunrise Hikers stayed ahead of a storm that hammered the northwest El Paso area earlier this morning. Here's a pic of the group before their hike through the canyons of Schaeffer Shuffle:

Below is a picture of the storm bearing down about 7:35 a.m. The merry hiking group was safe and sound and ready to carpool out of the parking area.

Pictures were taken by Sunrise Hiker, Judy Ackerman.

El Paso as a Regional Eco-Tourism Hub

This past Friday I had the great fortune of joining a group put together by County Commissioner Veronica Escobar's office: the Eco-Tourism Committee. Its agenda opened with the message, "El Paso: The Gateway to Sustainable, Responsible, Multifaceted, Cultural Nature-Tourism." The agenda was comprehensive and each of the topics should be blogged about.

I'd like to begin with what I think is the most ambitious item: Rick LoBello's quest to create one big International Peace Park out of Big Bend National Park and adjacent, protected lands in the state of Coahuila, Mexico. As long as I have known Rick, the creation of the Peace Park is his passion. (He has others as evidenced by his energy in compiling web sites such as and the one for the Chihuahuan Desert Education Coalition. Rick is the Education Curator at El Paso Zoo. He blogs frequently.

The saga to create such a park has a long history and there is renewed hope that President Obama's recent talks with President Calderon included the park.

One might wonder how such a park could benefit El Paso. Big Bend is a good half day's drive from El Paso. Nevertheless, the park is this side of Pecos River and the closest international airport to it is in El Paso, Texas. Big Bend already showcases the diverse beauty and wildlife of the Chihuahuan Desert. A peace park would attract even more visitors to our region just as similar parks around the world do. In 2005, Brewster County, Texas (which encompasses Big Bend National Park) benefited from tourist trade to the tune of $17 million. Imagine the trade that El Paso County could generate from international tourists flying into El Paso, taking advantage of the numerous nature tourism sites and activities in the County and region prior to visiting Big Bend or the U.S./Mexico Peace Park. Combine that visit with a tour of the Guadalupe Mountains National Park and perhaps the Sacramentos or Gilas, and El Paso and its sister cities could richly benefit. (A similar "grand circle tour" includes the Grand Canyon, Zion and Bryce National Parks in Arizona and Utah.)

LoBello also suggested an El Paso Great Southwest Tour: 7 Days, 7 Natural Wonders: the Franklin Mountains, White Sands, Carlsbad Caverns, the Guadalupes, Big Bend, Big Bend Ranch Park and a Davis Mountain loop that would include McDonald Observatory.

The eco-tourism committee enthusiastically and unanimously agreed to sponsoring a resolution in support of an International Park Commission - a resolution to go to local governments for adoption. Such a resolution was abandoned by Rotary International. However, that was Rotary. This is LoBello.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

El Paso Media Group Is Loco for Local

El Paso Media Group (El Paso Magazine, Newspaper Tree, yada, yada, yada) is leading the way when it comes to promoting local businesses, local food, local gardening, local, local, local.

First, Elizabeth Ruiz is chronicling Homegrown El Paso's "Go Local" Challenge. Editor, Lisa Degliantoni (Charlando con la Gringa) is tweeting chickens and homemade paella. El Paso Magazine online is even taking pictures of backyard, egg-laying fowl.

But the coup de grĂ¢ce is the new Facebook group, My El Paso Garden.

So, if you aren't on Twitter or Facebook and you don't regularly read the Newspaper Tree or the El Paso Magazine, do yourself a favor. Start!

Opportunity to Help Preserve the Castner Range

Judy Ackerman of the Franklin Mountains Wilderness Coaltion reports this opportunity to help preserve the Castner Range:

Congressman Sylvester Reyes is working to preserve Castner Range. He included the following critical policy language in the current National Defense Authorization Act:

Castner Range Complex at Fort Bliss

The committee understands that the Department of Defense ceased operations at the Castner Range Complex at Fort Bliss, Texas, in 1971. In testimony, the Army indicated that Castner Range is “wholly impractical to use for any range activity.” The committee is interested in maintaining this land for a conservation purpose.

The committee encourages the Department to enter into an agreement in furtherance of conveyance with eligible conservation entities.

Send Congressman Reyes your thanks: 310 North Mesa, Suite 400, El Paso, TX 79901, 915-534-4400, or e-mail:

Senate Armed Services Committee has their markup of the 2010 National Defense Authorization Act the last week in June. Let your Senators know how you feel about including in the Senate version of the NDAA, language similar to the House version that voices support for preserving Castner Range.


Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison

284 Russell Senate Office Building, Washington, DC 20510-4304


Legislative Aid, Steve Rubright

Regional Director, Jesse Hereford,

Senator John Cornyn
517 Hart Senate Office Bldg., Washington, DC 20510

Legislative Aid, Dave Hanke
Deputy Regional Director, Jonathan Huhn,

Castner Range "has a combination of unique plant and animal habitats, complex geology, spectacular scenery and rich cultural features unequaled anywhere else in the Franklins."

Friday, June 19, 2009

Wanted: Location of Soapberry Borer Infestations in Texas

Regional Urban Forester, Oscar Mestas is asking that if "in your travels or at home and around your cities, towns, parks etc., keep an eye out for soapberry borer infestation." The Texas Forest Service has sent out the following email alert:

The Texas Forest Service is attempting to determine the current distribution of the soapberry borer in Texas. The soapberry borer, Agrilus prionurus, is an invasive wood-boring beetle recently introduced from Mexico that has been attacking and killing western soapberry trees in various counties of Texas. If you spot dead or dying western soapberry trees, please report the following information to Dr. Ron Billings at If possible, attach digital photos of the bark chips, larval galleries, D-shaped exit holes or other signs of attack, together with a close-up photo of the tree’s leaves, so we can confirm the identity of the pest. Please see the attached descriptions if you are uncertain how to identify western soapberry or the damage this flatheaded wood borer causes. Thanks for your cooperation.

Name of observer: _____________________ County of infestation:______________________

Date first observed: ____________________

Address of infested tree(s) or GPS location if available:________________________________

Attack signs noted: ___ Dead soapberry tree with bark removed

(check all observed) ___ Dying soapberry tree with some yellow or green leaves

___ Chips of bark at base of tree

___ White larvae beneath the bark

___ Winding galleries beneath the bark

___ “D”-shaped exit holes in bark

___ Sprouting of new leaves along trunk

___ Adult soapberry borers

Number of trees infested: ______ Average diameter of trees infested: _______ inches

Are there uninfested soapberry trees (> 3” in DBH) at this site? ___ Yes; ____ No; ____ Don’t know

Return questionnaire by e-mail to or regular mail to: Dr. Ronald F. Billings/Manager, Forest Pest Management/Texas Forest Service/301 Tarrow, Suite 364/College Station, TX 77840-7896. 979-458-6650

For better detail, click on any of the images above. Some might confuse soapberries with chinaberry trees. Do look at the detail.

Master Naturalist, Judy Ackerman reports: "There is a lovely stand of soapberry trees in the Tom May’s section of Franklin Mountains State Park. They are on the trail to Cottonwood Springs just across from the West Cottonwood Tin Mine."

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Sunrise Hiker Program Off To Great Start at Tom Mays Park

Sunrise Hikers eagerly await a walk to Mundy's Gap

Become a Sunrise Hiker! The Franklin Mountains State Park has begun a great new early morning hiking program: the Sunrise Hikers. Hiking begins no later than 6 and ends by 8 - enough time for many to hike and then get to work. These hikes are for exercise and enjoyment rather than the usual educational field trips. Volunteers, Barb Carvajal and Jim Tolbert, are leading these short "treks" every Tuesday and Thursday morning through August. Dogs on leashes are welcome. Participants are asked to bring plenty of water and sunscreen. There are a number of trails in the park and a different trail will be taken each time. For more information, you can email Jim. Hikers meet at the main gate off of Transmountain and caravan to the trailhead.

For a list of other upcoming events in the State Park go here.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Planning Begins for Celebration of Our Mountains

"Sunrise" taken by Judy Ackerman on June 9, 2009 at Tom Mays Park.

Planning for the 16th Annual Celebration of Our Mountains got underway last night. A group convened by Randy Limbird of El Paso Scene met at Ardovino's Desert Crossing last night and began scheduling events for fall 2009. Volcanoes and dinosaur tracks, weekend and weekday hikes are all part of the mix.

Dr. Phil Goodell of UTEP started Celebration 16 years ago as a way to include the public on geology field trips. It has since expanded to include much of the greater El Paso outdoors. Trips to the mineral fields and mines near Orogrande as well as visits to Kilbourne Hole west of El Paso in New Mexico are included in hikes and field trips that scour the Franklin, Hueco, Guadalupe and other mountains.

The schedule will be posted later this summer at

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

City Council Creates new Open Space Advisory Board

At their regular meeting yesterday and by a 7 to 1 vote, the El Paso City Council created a new Open Space Advisory Board. Currently there is an Open Space sub-committee of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board. Beginning with a retreat attended by some committee members at the end of January, a proposal was slowly formed to create a separate advisory board appointed by the Mayor and Council in order to focus additional attention on open space.

The Open Space Master Plan (Toward a Bright Future) is now over two years old. It recommended that several items be implemented in the first six months after its acceptance by Council. Not until PSB began formulating a Stormwater Master Plan this past fall were any of these recommendations even discussed. Why the delay to implement? Open Space was a sub-committee of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board and would report to that Board - a cumbersome group of 19 individuals most of whom were interested in neighborhood issues. If a suggestion did get out of the Advisory Board, it still had to go before a Legislative Review Committee of the City Council before reaching City Council itself. (By the way, Council also created yesterday a new nine-member Board of Parks and Recreation.)
Another reason for the delay has been the inability of the Open space sub-committee to overcome the departmental layers of the city bureaucracy: Developmental Services, Parks and Recreation, Planning, and so forth.

With a new Advisory Board that works within the Parks and Recreation Department and reports directly to City Council, the Master Plan can begin to be implemented in a more timely fashion. The creation of the new Board removes levels of bureaucracy - something Representative Holguin didn't understand in spite of a chart created by Dr. Rick Bonart that shows the simpler pathway from Board to Council. (Holguin was the lone "no" vote against the proposal.)

The new ordinance states clearly that one of the board's duties will be to "provide recommendations on the implementation of 'Towards a Bright Future: A Green Infrastructure Plan for El Paso, Texas', commonly referred to as the Open Space Master Plan."

A Stormwater Engineer of the El Paso Water Utilities Public Service Board shall be an ex-officio member of the Council - an important ingredient again in implementing the plan. Moreover, the Board will provide input to the Mayor and Council on "legislative matters pertaining to open space submitted to the board by the director of the Department of Parks and Recreation, the director of the Developmental Services Department, the Chief Executive Officer of the Public Service Board, the director of the Economic Development Department and the City Flood Plain Administrator or their designees."

Implementing the Open Space plan not only preserves and protects huge areas of the El Paso environment, it also will help to control sprawl. Similar to Boulder's decades old "blue line", the creation of open space will help the City better manage growth. Such management can lead to more infill so that developers will do more to improve not just vacant areas in El Paso but possibly the most blighted areas as well.

El Paso is certainly on the right path and that was further demonstrated by a Trail Master Plan Citizens' Group organized by Shamori Whitt, the City's Open Space, Trails and Parks Coordinator. The group met last night for three hours and helped to identify hike and bike trails around the City for preservation. Attending the meeting was Jared Mendoza of the Engineering Traffic Division. He is helping to make El Paso a more walkable community.

Open space, walkability, ecotourism, outdoor recreation - these are key terms for El Paso's future. City Council took a big step into that future by creating an independent Open Space Advisory Board.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Who Needs Native Plants? Not the Parks Department

Judy Ackerman called me earlier today to report that a Parks and Recreation crew from the City of El Paso had just about pulled out the last of the beautiful Desert Marigolds and Desert 4 O'Clocks at Skyline Optimist Park. Why? They are both native species and require little water or attention and they put out beautiful flowers all summer long. The Desert Marigold is even on the recommended list of desert plants for landscaping by the El Paso Water Utilities/Public Service Board.
According to the Native Plant Society of New Mexico, native plants are important:
"All of our native plants evolved here and been subjected to long periods of natural selection. They are perfectly adapted to the climate and habitats of New Mexico. Native plants are in balance with the ecosystem, provide cover and food for native animals, and have developed a surprisingly diverse array of relationships with soil fungi and other native microorganisms. What better plants to grow on any patch of ground than the species that have evolved upon that spot?"
El Paso has a chapter of the Native Plant Society of NM.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Declare Your Food Independence

Hey, El Paso! Join the local food movement and declare your food independence this July 4th. Here's the scoop:

This July 4th: Help us put local, sustainable foods on the map . . . and on our elected officials' plates!

Sign our petition at or on Facebook.

Contact your state’s first family and ask them to plan a locally-sourced holiday meal and to share their July 4th menu with us (they can e-mail it to

Inspire them and others by sharing your local food plans for the July 4th meal via our interactive map. (Click the word “add” on the map. You can include your name, your location, and what you plan to serve July 4th).

If you’re a kid and growing some local food of your own, share your story with others through the “Why I’m a Victory Grower” video contest.

Help us spread the word by grabbing a button (sm/lg) or flash widget for your website, blog, social network, or newsletter.

Thanks for joining the over 3000 people who have already declared their
food independence,

Roger - Roger Doiron, Founding Director, Kitchen Gardeners InternationalIATP Food and Society Fellow. Mail: 3 Powderhorn Drive, Scarborough, Me 04074Phone: (207) 883-5341 Twitter:

Declare your food independence this July 4th!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Anthony, Texas Opens New Farmers Market

My info is sketchy, but this is what I learned from Joe Falkner, President of the El Paso County Master Gardeners Association:

"Anthony, Texas has opened a Farmers Market on Saturday mornings. The Market is in the Anthony city park, 1/2 mile west of I-10 exit 1. It is a beautiful park, lots of grass and large trees, with several large covered picnic tables. They opened on 30 May, and actually had two farmers selling their produce, even though it is early. They also had several craft booths. The organizers said they had commitments from other farmers to participate once they had produce to sell. The market is open on 2nd and 4th Saturdays each month."

Anthony, New Mexico/Texas has been called the "leap year capital of the world".