This is related to yesterday’s post..Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks is considered to be a co-managed federal unit between the Cochiti Pueblo and the BLM. It’s been closed for three years.
Here’s a story from KRQE News 13. The story starts out with how difficult it was to find anything out about the closure and when it might be reopened:
The National Monument was closed to the public in the 2020 pandemic shutdown and it remains closed today. Why? KRQE News 13 went digging for answers.
For months, emails and phone calls requesting interviews with the state’s Tourism Department, the Bureau of Land Management, the Secretary of the Interior’s Office, Congresswoman Teresa Leger Fernandez, and Senator Martin Heinrich were answered with replies such as, “We will not be providing a comment or participating in this story at this time.”
Cochiti Pueblo leaders also declined to comment. The BLM updated the statement on its website on April 28, during the weeks of KRQE’s requests for information. Finally, the BLM agreed to chat via Zoom.
“BLM has been meeting regularly with the Pueblo,” said Jamie Garcia, an outdoor recreation planner with the BLM. “We have been in discussions about what reopening looks like.”
This isn’t very transparent. Conceivably it could have been possible to give that answer sooner. One wonders if the co-management aspect may have made it more difficult to arrive at one answer that could be communicated.
On to the Monumentization aspect:
A ‘Double-Edged’ Sword
Garcia said they’re addressing long-standing issues including over-visitation, staffing needs, and resource protection, alongside Pueblo de Cochiti. “We’ve had such high recreation use and we want to make sure that we are taking a step back and really looking at that big picture item there, and seeing how we can move forward in a more sustainable and responsible way,” Garcia told KRQE News 13.
The Cochiti Pueblo remains closed citing Covid-19 restrictions, blocking road access to the national monument which sits on BLM land. As part of the presidential proclamation, the site is managed by the BLM in “close cooperation and partnership” with the Pueblo.
“I suspect that the designation of the National Monument was a double-edged sword,” said Dr. Smith. “On one hand, it provides resources and legal protections for preservation. But once someone sees a national monument on a map, it’s close to Interstate 25, it’s close to the Albuquerque-Rio Rancho-Santa Fe metropolitan areas — then that just becomes a magnet to draw more people,” Smith explained.
DR. GARY SMITH, UNM PROFESSOR
There’s a calculus here.. do more resources show up in enough quantities to deal with the enhanced visitation from Monumentizing? What, I wonder, was the Monument protected from?
Data published in a government-issued 2020 science plan shows visitation levels each year since the monument designation. In 2000, Tent Rocks recorded 14,674 visitors.
In 2001, that jumped to 25,000 annual visitors with the presidential proclamation. And since then, visitation has soared to more than 100,000 people a year before the covid shutdown.
“But even before the pandemic, I recall seeing activity discussions between the BLM and Cochiti trying to think about how to handle the large crowds, that it was having a detrimental impact on the landscape that they were joint stewards to preserve,” explained Smith.
During Spring Break 2018, KRQE News 13 reported on the massive line of cars waiting to enter Tent Rocks National Monument. Visitors were waiting 90 minutes just to park their vehicles.
“In the past few weeks, they’ve been over-capacity,” said Danita Burns during that Spring Break surge in 2018. “People from Australia, people that are coming in from Japan. It’s quite the destination now,” she said.
Monuments can attract tourists from outside the area.. this may be good for some in local communities, but lead to problems of overcrowding and reduction of the experience for locals and wildlife.
According to the pre-2020 data report, “Current visitation is nearly three times the original planned capacity,” which was designed to hold about 50,000 visitors annually. That’s been a concern for those working at the site.
Timed ticketing, fee increases
So, will visits to the monument move to timed ticketing? Garcia says an online reservation system along with a fee increase has been proposed.
“We have not implemented anything yet, but it is something we would like to do, make sure that we can keep up with growing costs of supplies and demand,” Garcia told KRQE News 13.
Meanwhile, locals are still seeing advertisements for Tent Rocks, and still waiting for the monument to reopen. “Oh, I’ll look forward to going back again, for sure,” said Smith.
Dr. Smith said his colleagues and friends have been messaging him, asking for updates about the monument. “Do you think Tent Rocks will open this spring? How long can they keep it closed? You know, so it’s – everyone wants to know,” Smith said.
The Bureau of Land Management says it will update plans for Tent Rocks on its website, but they have yet to provide a timeline on when the national monument will reopen. Part of that depends on when the pueblo decides to open its gates to the public once again.
It seems to me that Monumentizing, in some cases, is like many politically symbolic activities. Someone announces something that sounds good and makes a splash… then leave the same old folks with the same pots of dollars and competing priorities to actually carry it out.