Opening Remarks by Scott Cutler of the Franklin Mountains Wilderness Coalition at the 15th annual Chihuahuan Desert Fiesta at the Tom Mays Unit of the Franklin Mountains State Park.
September 28, 2019
Thank you all for coming to the 15th annual Chihuahuan Desert Fiesta organized by the Franklin Mountains State Park – a wonderful opportunity to learn more about our Chihuahuan Desert and local groups that help us understand and protect it.
Of equal significance, 2019 represents the 40thanniversary of the Franklin Mountains State Park’s creation. The Franklin Mountains have always been the centerpiece of our city. As the City began to spread northward around the mountains, citizens began realizing this iconic piece of El Paso might be radically changed if not protected. This concern came a reality when the owner of much of the Franklin’s bulldozed a road to the top of Mount Franklin. The community rallied together and convinced the City of El Paso and the State of Texas to produce legislation that created the Franklin Mountains State Park in 1979. This legislation preserved a large portion of the higher elevations of the Franklins and the Park has become a major destination for El Pasoans and visitors from around the world to recreate and immerse themselves in the Chihuahuan Desert.
Forty years on, it is worthwhile to see where we are with the largest urban state park in the continental United States.
Visitation continues to rise. In 2009 there were 34,996 registered Park. In 2019 that number was 71,795. That’s a doubling in visitation over the last 10 years. As amazing as those numbers are, it is known that many people enter the park and use the trails without registering their visit. It is believed the real number of people who come into the park is closer to 150,000 per year.
A new visitors center is nearing completion. This will provide an official Park entry point where visitors can ask questions and get assistance in planning their visit.
The Park now has over 100 miles of trails, providing nearly limitless opportunities to explore the many habitats and vistas within the park.
The Park and the mountains it protects are still the centerpiece of our city and a refuge for all seeking the opportunity to reconnect with nature and enjoy the healthful benefits of being outdoors, whether alone or with friends and family.
While this 40th anniversary of the Park’s founding is significant, and an important historical event, the Park will be here well into the future. So, while we are thrilled with what has happened to this point, we should also look forward to the next 40, 80, 120 years or more. What might the Park’s and, by extension, the Franklin Mountain’s future look like? Here are a few possibilities.
1. Without a doubt, park visitation will increase, perhaps doubling again in another ten years. This will strain existing park resources needed to maintain trails and roads, protect sensitive areas and provide adequate staffing. The park’s budget must increase to meet these needs. To this end, it is very important that visitors to the park register their visit. All funding decisions emanate from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) office in Austin and those decisions are based, in part, on visitation numbers. The more registered visitors, the better the budget. Perhaps the Park will come up with an app that allows people to sign in electronically from wherever they enter the park.
Another source of funding for FMSP (and other State Parks) are funds generated by the sale of hunting, fishing and camping supplies. A certain portion of the sales taxes from those purchases is supposed to go to Texas Parks and Wildlife for parks. We, as tax paying citizens, need to ensure that the Texas Legislature fulfills its duty and directs those funds to TPWD.
2. When the Texas legislature created the Park, the enabling legislation included language that would allow Castner Range (a closed firing range owned by Fort Bliss on the east side of the Franklins) to be added to the Franklin Mountains State Park. Due to concerns about unexploded ordinance, the transfer never happened. Local groups have worked hard for the past 40 years to find a way to preserve the 7,000 acres remaining. Perhaps dialog and partnerships will form between the Army, the Park and the community that will lead to this striking landscape preserved in its natural state as park land, fulfilling the original vision put forward four decades ago.
3. Over fifty years ago the City of El Paso purchased upwards of fifty square miles of land around El Paso, many thousands of those acres being part of the Franklin Mountains. Those mountain lands could provide excellent recreational opportunities for the growing city as well other no-cost environmental benefits. Maybe a partnership can be formed between the City, El Paso Water, community groups and the State Park to manage those public lands as open space. This would help conserve our water resources, reduce our City’s impact on climate change, and lower our future tax burden.
4. Volunteers will be able to play a vital role in helping the park function in the future – from manning the visitors center to leading hikes and maintaining trails. Hopefully community members will rise to this need and create a core of volunteer help that allows the park to serve its visitors while protecting the land’s resources.
The Franklin Mountains State Park is a tremendous asset for the City and its residents. It is here because people in this community, folks just like us, saw the mountain’s value being greatest as open space rather than as developments. I hope that their vision and tireless work is never forgotten. As we move towards the half century anniversary of the park and beyond, let us all remember that we, the people, have great power to make change.
Get involved. Commit a little of your time to a larger cause like protecting our mountain and the park. Only through our support, vigilance, time and effort, will the Franklin Mountains and the Franklin Mountains State Park remain the treasured centerpiece of our community forever.