Aug. 17–Gubernatorial candidate and U.S. Congressman Steve Pearce said access to public lands must be preserved, even as oil and gas operators continue to flow into the Carlsbad area and lease land for extraction.
His remarks came during a Thursday speech at the trailhead of the newly dedicated Guadalupe Ridge Trail, a 125-mile hiking trail that connects existing trails in Carlsbad Caverns National Park, Lincoln National Forest and Guadalupe Mountains National Park.
Pearce said oil and gas is essential to New Mexico’s economy, and a balance must be struck with the local tourism industry.
“It just requires that balance,” he said. “We want that harmony. The last thing we want to do is discourage oil and gas.”
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He also pointed to increased traffic in remote areas brought on by the recent extraction boom, vowing to negotiate with oil and gas companies to attempt to reduce the amount of trucks on the road.
“As far as traffic on the highway, that’s a major consideration,” Pearce said. “We’re working to meet with the companies to lessen the load.”
Pearce said Carlsbad’s tourism industry may also be suffering from high hotel prices and a scarcity of hotel rooms.
He suggested working with bus companies to bus in tourists from nearby towns for day trips, allowing them to visit the Carlsbad Caverns and hiking trails in the area.
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“We’re working with (bus companies) to take day trips,” Pearce said. “Markets always got their own characters. People want to the see the park bad enough. They’ll get here.”
The tourism industry also suffers from a lack of qualified workers, Pearce said, and apprenticeship programs in local high schools could mitigate the issue.
“The biggest challenge is finding qualified workers,” he said. “There are a lot of kids that would like this career. We have to get it in the schools.”
Robert Defer, CEO of the Carlsbad Chamber of Commerce, said he agreed that the oil and gas industry should not be impeded by tourism, or vice versa.
“Oil and gas is essential to the state of New Mexico,” he said. “We just have to find a way for everyone to work together.”
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That spirit of collaboration is what drove the project to create the Guadalupe Ridge Trail, Defer said.
He pointed to a team effort by the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, Chamber of Commerce, Bureau of Land Management, and potentially the New Mexico State Land Office as the trail could be extended through State Trust land.
“What’s been exciting about this is getting all the agencies together to work on this,” Defer said. “All the superintendents got together.”
Guadalupe Mountains National Park Superintendent Eric Brunnemann said the trail could be further lengthened to continue into Carlsbad, connecting to trails near Living Desert Zoo and Gardens State Park.
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The trail starts on Rushmore Road, about three and a half miles from the visitor’s center at Carlsbad Caverns. It continues through Sitting Bull Falls and Lincoln National Forest and on to Guadalupe Mountains National Park in Salt Flat, Texas.
“It’s a rare day when you get so many agencies together,” Brunnemann said. “That segment we connect into Carlsbad is going to set the tone. It will just continue to grow, and be a destination.”
During his visit to Carlsbad, Pearce also met with officials at Carlsbad Caverns to discuss the recently completed project to modernize the park’s primary elevator system.
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He called on park officials to expedite the project to modernize the secondary elevators in a “timely” manner.
“The federal government, though, does have more work to do at the Caverns. I fear the National Park Service are repeating past mistakes when it comes to the renovation and modernization of the secondary elevators,” Pearce said.
“My office will continue to work with NPS and the Department of the Interior to mitigate any visitation issues as the secondary elevators undergo renovations. However, it is essential the NPS learn from its past mistake and move as expediently as possible to renovate the secondary elevators.”
Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-628-5516, firstname.lastname@example.org or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.
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