Sunday, January 31, 2010

Legislature Considers San Juan Stamp to Generate Habitat Improvement Funds

A new user fee for anglers who fish the San Juan River’s trophy, trout waters overcame its first hurdle in the Legislature this week with passage of House Bill 51 by the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee.

Under the proposed law a new habitat stamp would be added to state fishing licenses for those who wish to fish the San Juan River’s quality waters.
State residents would be charged an extra $5 a year on top of the usual cost of an annual fishing license while out-of-state anglers who want to the fish the state’s top trout fishery would have to pay an extra $10.

The stamp requirement would expire after ten years under a sunset provision and is estimated to generate between $225,000 to 325,000 a year.

Money generated from the extra stamp charge would be earmarked exclusively for habitat improvement projects on the San Juan River’s quality waters, where some say the fishing quality has declined in recent years.

The stamp idea grew out of stakeholder meetings last year to address issues regarding the fabled, blue ribbon trout stream including complaints about the degradation of fish habitat due to silt and sediment accumulation brought on by federally mandated, lower water releases from the dam at Navajo Lake.

The legislation comes on the heels of the loss of $250,000 in state capital outlay funds appropriated for habitat improvements on the river last year and supporters of the bill say it’s only appropriate for users of the river to now shoulder the burden for the improvements.

“We support it, there’s just no other way in this economic climate,” says Rudy Rios, president of New Mexico Trout. ” It’s a small price to pay for the quality they’re (anglers) getting.”

One priority project on the books that has been waiting on funding is diversion of a wash that drains directly into the top end of the river and is a major contributor of silt and sediment to the river at highly popular Texas Hole.

Other projects under consideration include increasing access and improving fish habitat in other sections of the river to reduce overcrowding and pressure on the more popular areas, says State Game Commission Chairman Jim McClintic.

“We want to make this one of the finest fisheries in the U.S.A.,” McClintic told members of the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee during their hearing of the bill at the state capitol on Thursday (Jan 28).

Angling on the San Juan River contributes anywhere from $20 million to $40 million to the state’s economy each year, according to the state Department of Game and Fish.

McClintic said in an interview prior to the committee meeting that he saw no other way to raise the funds needed for those improvements that anglers wanted.

“The people who use it should have to pay for it,” he said.

Greg McReynolds of Trout Unlimited complained that the extra charge to anglers would make it harder to raise fees in the future to support other initiatives like native trout restoration. He also argued for a shorter sunset provision of three years and asked that there be more public involvement and a clearer plan of action before proceeding.

“We may support this bill later,” he told the committee.

Larry Johnson of the San Juan River Guides Association and owner of Soaring Eagle Lodge says the stamp idea enjoys broad support among fishing guides, fly shops, and other business owners on the San Juan River at Navajo Dam.

“My clients tell me another $10 isn’t going to kill them especially after all the money they spent to come fish here in the first place,” Johnson says.

About 70 percent of those fishing the river come from out of state, according to state Department of Game and Fish statistics.

The bill enjoys the support of Governor Bill Richardson, according to his spokesperson, Alarie Ray-Garcia, because it provides targeted funding, is paid for by the anglers who fish the river, it allows the Department of Game & Fish to address recent concerns regarding fish habitat, angler access, and siltation and also allows the department to conduct habitat and fishery studies.

House Bill 51, sponsored by House Minority Leader Tom Taylor, R-San Juan, is slated to go next before the House Energy Minerals and Natural Resources Committee.

This article appeared also appeared in the Santa Fe New Mexican .

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Cerrillos Hills State's Newest park

The coyotes started howling just as we crested the hill on this warm, sunny afternoon at the new Cerrillos Hills State Park south of Santa Fe.

But it was the panoramic views that captured our attention as the pack yipped and howled in what sounded like the next draw over.

Views that stretched for miles taking in snow capped mountain ranges, flat topped mesas and rolling pinon and juniper studded hills.

Here the ground was warm and dry, the trails clear and well maintained and the silence deafening.

“It’s one of the best things about this place,” says Sarah Wood, manager of the state’s newest park. “We’ve got five miles of good trails, great winter hiking and incredible views.”

Located just outside the historic mining town of Cerrillos, just 25 miles south of Santa Fe off State Rd. 14, management of the park was assumed from Santa Fe County by the State Parks Division of the state Energy, Mineral’s and Natural Resources Department in August.

Many of the state’s 36 state parks administer public lands for other agencies and generate much of their operating funds through user fees.

Much of Cerrillos Hills State Park’s existing trails, interpretive signs, a restroom and other features were already in place due primarily to the volunteer efforts of  the Cerrillos Hill’s Park Coalition along with assistance from the county and has been open to the public since 2003.

Granted some $1.4 million in legislative appropriations in recent years, State Parks acquired a .67 of an acre parcel of land in downtown Cerrillos for $672,000 upon which to construct a community and visitor center, according to Marti Niman, State Park’s spokesperson.

But plans for the community and visitor center have since ground to a halt after Governor Bill Richardson ordered a freeze on all capital outlay projects while he and the state legislature work on a fix for the state’s $650 million budget shortfall.

State Parks was however, able to renovate a house on the land for use as an office which sits just down the street from a historic landmark at the entrance to town, Mary’s Bar.

During a recent visit Wood said she hoped the park would draw more visitors to the old mining town and boost economic development for the rural area.

“We already get quite a few visitors,” she says “But we’re seeing even more mountain bikers, hikers and horseback riders as the word gets out.”

Wood noted that she spends a lot of time now notifying visitors that a $5 day use fee is required to utilize the park. It had been free to use before. A yearly pass can be for $40 at the office or by mail.

The park has recently played host to astronomy events, nature tours and other events to draw visitors and will conduct even more activities in the future, Wood said.

Wood, 47, of Los Alamos, has been with State Parks for eight years. She holds a Masters Degree in Biology from New Mexico State University in Las Cruces and a Bachelors Degree in Biology from the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque.

Wood formerly held the position of Northwest and Northeast Regional Educational Coordinator for State Parks where she oversaw educational and interpretive programs including star parties, wildlife tracking, plant and fauna identification and history programs for school groups and the public.

This is her first posting as a State Park Manager and is excited about the opportunity and possibilities considering the area’s natural and historical attractions and its proximity to a major tourism destination such as Santa Fe.

Less than a half hour away from Santa Fe, the park not only provides visitors with wide open spaces to enjoy but also a glimpse back in time of an era long ago.

Along many of the trails visitors will find numerous sealed mines, most with interpretive signs providing information about the region during its boom town days.

Cerrillos once was a town bustling with hotels, saloons and other businesses to support those who mined the hills during the 1800s for gold, silver, turquoise, zinc and  lead.

But today one finds mostly dusty streets, old boarded up store fronts and plenty of dogs roaming about the once busy town.

However, upon closer inspection visitors to Cerrillos will find some diehard businesses remain including the fun and informative, Casa Grande Petting Zoo and Turquoise Mining Museum, an intriquing What Not Shop and Mary’s Bar, a classic New Mexico drinking establishment.

The town also boasts a wonderful old church, some galleries and plenty of Old West atmosphere, the likes of which drew movie makers to the rural community to make films such as “Young Guns,”one and two.

All worth visiting while taking in the new state park’s great outdoor recreational opportunities which also includes a horseback riding concession, Broken Saddle Riding Co, that’ll take riders into the park and surrounding public lands.

It should be noted that Cerrillos lacks a restaurant but food and drink can be had in the funky little town of Madrid located just three miles down the road from Cerrillos, where one can eat, drink and shop.

This article also appeared in the Santa Fe New Mexican.

If You Go:

Those traveling out to Cerrillos Hills Park can make a roundtrip adventure of it by taking I-25 south to exit 267 located at the top of La Bajada Hill, just past the rest area.

Go under the highway and then head straight for the mountains on Santa Fe County Road (SFCR) 57, also known as Waldo Canyon Road.

This paved road turns to dirt after about a mile and one might see the Roadrunner train along the way. About six miles later one comes upon the old railroad siding of Waldo where the ruins of massive coke furnaces can be seen by the railroad tracks. The stop features the shade of several aging cottonwood trees and ruins of old buildings. Amtrak and freight trains still operate on these tracks, trespassing is prohibited and caution is advised.

The road then cuts through a narrow, twisty gorge and eventually comes out at Cerrillos where one takes a left onto SFCR 59, which leads up past the village cemetery to the Cerrillos Hills State Park kiosk. The office is located in downtown Cerrillos on Main Street.

Upon leaving town, visitors can head back to Santa Fe through Cerrillos on State Road 14 and take SFCR 45, also known as Bonanza Creek Road, just outside of Lone Butte, for a scenic side trip into the foothills and past the Bonanza Creek movie ranch where from the road visitors can sometimes see movie sets. Stay on SFCR 45 to the frontage road at I-25 and follow it north back to State Road 14 and on into Santa Fe.

Popular Posts