An urban park is surrounded by controversy

  • Ike Eastvold points out graffiti that mars a cave containing petroglyphs

    Ruth Haas
  • Development creeps to the border of Petroglyph monument

    Leo Hsu
  ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - The words from the park superintendent seemed to jump off the page at Ike Eastvold, an environmentalist who leads groups through Petroglyph National Monument.


"Tour content must not include political or inflammatory information directed at either the National Park Service, the city of Albuquerque, or any other entity. Issues concerning Petroglyph National Monument may of course be addressed, but participants should be allowed to form their own opinions ... pursuant to National Park Service policy, tour content will be audited and approved by the superintendent or his/her designee."


Eastvold, who leads hikes into the area for the Sierra Club and Friends of the Albuquerque Petroglyphs, read this language in his application for a special-use permit application in October. He found it intimidating.


"I needed to find out what my rights were, so I checked with other park units, other permit holders and people belonging to the Park Service," he says. "They were almost as shocked as I was." Eastvold believes the permit's conditions violate his First Amendment rights protecting free speech. "It appears to be a clumsy attempt to silence criticism of (Park Superintendent Steve) Whitesell's management."


Perhaps feeling the heat from Eastvold's investigation, Whitesell recently rescinded the permit application. He says Eastvold "raised some valid concerns about the application," but denies the language was targeted at the environmentalist. "We would apply this (application language) to anyone leading tours in the monument."


Regardless of his motivation, Whitesell, critics say, has not yet changed his management philosophy for the monument, a 7,000-acre home of ancient Indian rock art that follows an escarpment on Albuquerque's western edge.


As Park Service officials put the finishing touches on a draft management plan for the monument, Eastvold and his allies fear Superintendent Whitesell will allow horseback riders, mountain bikers and vandals to overun the lava-rock monument.


A road proposed by city officials that would cut through the monument and connect booming subdivisions has been the monument's most visible issue (HCN, 11/1/93). But the more pervasive question is whether Petroglyph will be a spiritual and natural sanctuary amid urbanity or a recreational outlet for many people.


The monument is already showing signs of intense human use. Vandals have damaged its largest and most pristine section, Rinconada Canyon, by spray painting and gouging graffiti over the rocks at a cave near the canyon's mouth. Glass from broken bottles is also a common sight. Eastvold says much of the vandalism has occurred in the past year.


Eastvold says he and Pueblo Indian leaders, who regard the monument as a sacred site, alerted the Park Service to the increasing vandalism two years ago. Until this fall, however, anyone could enter the monument, anywhere, anytime. The agency has since closed the entrance to Rinconada Canyon from dusk to dawn. The rest of the park is still open and rangers are hard to find. Eastvold calls it "too little, too late."


More problematic for opponents is a proposed general management plan that calls for eight miles of multiuse trails for horseback riding and mountain biking. Environmentalists and Pueblo leaders say the trails will increase access to the most remote and sensitive areas of the monument.


"Horseback riding, biking and hiking are going on right now," counters Whitesell. "The plan proposes a significant reduction in trails for those uses. We will close and rehabilitate some trails."


Native American opposition continues to be a problem for the Park Service, which hopes to issue a draft plan for public review in early 1995. The agency has enlisted the help of the Greater Recreational Trails Committee, a group formed by city ordinance in 1990, to advise on a recreational trails plan for the monument.


The trails committee, which includes mountain bikers and horseback riders, seems to have played a major role in defining the recreational part of the management plan. Minutes of its meetings show Park Service staffer Larry Beal in close contact with group members - soliciting their views, supplying them with copies of correspondence with Native Americans and asking them to meet with the Native American community to discuss the plan.


Last spring, all 19 Indian Pueblos near Albuquerque wrote Whitesell to express their strong objections to horse and bike trails. They asked the Park Service to manage the area in a reverent manner as a place for worship and prayer. They did agree to accommodate pedestrian trails.


In August and September, Whitesell wrote and called William Weakhee, executive director of the five Sandoval Indian Pueblos. Whitesell proposed a monitoring and permitting program for horse and bicycle users, with particularly intense monitoring in the sacred areas. He asked Weakhee to work out the details of such a program with Pueblo leaders, including specifying the number of rangers they thought should be added to monument staff as monitors.


Pueblo leaders have not responded to these requests. Weakhee says: "We don't think it is appropriate for us to be forced into a negotiating position. We made our position very clear earlier this year: Our sacred sites are as sacrosanct as any cathedral ..."


Whitesell says adequate monitoring and a permit system should assuage Pueblo leaders' concerns over vulnerable archaeological sites. The real problem, he says, is inadequate staffing. "I'd like to see the people on all sides come together to help get the resources this monument needs."


In addition to its cultural riches, Petroglyph harbors an array of wildlife, including shrub habitat that supports more than 100 bird species, says Forest Service ornithologist Hart Schwarz. The mesa top in the monument is especially critical habitat, Schwarz adds, because it buffers the west side of Albuquerque, which is sprouting subdivisions.


Schwarz recently wrote Whitesell urging him to consider the monument's natural resources in drafting the management plan. Biking and horse trails would "severely affect nesting raptors, particularly ferruginous hawks, which nest on the ground," he wrote. To date, he has received no reply.


To get on the mailing list for the Petroglyph National Monument's general management plan, or to comment, write Superintendent, Petroglyph National Monument, 123 4th Street, Albuquerque, NM 87102. To contact Friends of the Albuquerque Petroglyphs, write 2920 Carlisle, NE, Albuquerque, NM 87110 (505/889-3779).


* Ruth Haas





The writer lives in the mountains outside Albuquerque, New Mexico.