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Monday, February 23, 2015

Save El Paso's Valuable Keystone Heritage Park

The City and the PSB respectively own El Paso’s two major nature preserves: Keystone Heritage Park and Rio Bosque Wetlands Park.  Both contain wetlands supporting numerous wildlife.  Keystone Heritage  Park also has a major archaeological site

These nature sites have been developed and maintained without any public support (i.e., no Parks and Recreation involvement at all) for nearly two decades.  Volunteers have done all the work at Keystone.   
  
UTEP manages Rio Bosque, and one staff member has dedicated a substantial part of his time to it for many years. A volunteer group, Friends of the Rio Bosque, organizes support. 

Both of these important nature sites face difficulties ahead of the result of plans by the city and the PSB.   

The most immediate problem confronts Keystone Heritage Park. The City has five Citizens Collection Stations where items such as hazardous waste and bulky material such as unwanted furniture and appliances can be discarded.  Current rules require that the individual put the trash in the 7 ft-high rolloff bins. This, not surprisingly, is difficult for many persons, particularly if large items are involved.  So the Environmental Services Department, which manages the collection of trash and recyclables, has come up with a plan for a major re-do of one of these sites – the Westside site, at Atlantic and Doniphan.  Unfortunately, this site is next to Keystone Heritage Park.  

There are numerous reasons to object to the current design for the expansion, and to the proposed expansion itself, including the possibility of damage to the archaeological site   The most important is the blow to the economic future of Keystone, which could be an anchor for ecotourism in the city as well as a quality of life improvement for the residents.  

A longer-term issue may face Rio Bosque, as the PSB-owned land to its southeast side is slated for development as an industrial park.   This is said to be part of an economic development plan for the city.   The future of Rio Bosque as the second link in ecotourism and quality of life apparently is not part of this plan.

Step back and consider how other wildlife refuges have benefitted their communities. The Fish and Wildlife Service reports that the Bosque del Apache in central New Mexico is the major draw of all tourist attractions in Socorro County.   “Nonlocal visitors (93 percent) spent an average of $64 per person per day in the local area; local visitors (7 percent) spent an average of $41 per person per day. In 2011, the refuge’s 165,000-plus visitors spent more than $5 million during their stay. This spending, in turn, generated more than $7.6 million worth of state economic activity and supported 94 jobs outside the refuge.”  

The Friends of the Bosque del Apache issued a very powerful statement about the importance of such wildlife refuges in general, and in particular that of the Bosque del Apache, noting that “For every $1 of the refuge budget, there is a local economic effect of nearly $8.”

Why would the City of El Paso, and its associated Public Service Board, even consider for a moment undertaking works near Keystone and Rio Bosque that would destroy the long-range future of these potential “green” economic drivers for regional tourism and residential benefit?
- Helen Marshall


For further reading:

The Economic Benefits of of Southern New Mexico's Natural Assets

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