Park Service is working to protect Petroglyph

  Dear HCN,

Your recent article on Petroglyph National Monument left out a great deal of information about actions the park is taking to deal with some of the issues raised by your coverage (HCN, 10/25/99). Cultural and natural resource protection in the park has greatly increased since it became a unit of the National Park System in 1990, despite the increasing pressures on the park from explosive growth in the community of Albuquerque. It is important to keep in mind that the majority of vandalism of the park's petroglyphs took place before the National Park Service began protecting and managing the park. Since then, the park has done an intensive inventory of the petroglyphs in order to better monitor and protect them, and has established an aggressive program to fight vandalism and graffiti.

Park staff have cleared literally tons of garbage from the park, have established regular ranger patrols of the park, have begun to eliminate most social trails from the Rinconada Canyon, have established a strong program of more than 100 volunteers to help the public understand this remarkable resource, and have involved the public and city partners in a thorough planning process to provide guidance for managing the park. The park management is also close to making public a new policy that addresses the problem of dogs.

In addition, erosion and watershed conditions in the park have improved because of reduction in livestock grazing and reduced vehicle use on unpaved roads. Expert hydrologists have visited the park regularly over the past nine years to help its staff design ways to protect its resources. The park plans to continue its efforts to restore watershed conditions and rehabilitate abandoned roads. While your article criticizes the park's efforts to mitigate erosion, the photo you use as an example depicts a natural process - that of a wash which had filled with blown sand over time being exposed again by heavy rains. This wash is an excellent place for a trail just because it is naturally "disturbed" by these cycles of deposition and erosion.

One result of the park's planning process and public input was the decision to build a small (20-car) parking lot at the mouth of the Rinconada Canyon. The parking lot was built to provide safe access to the canyon, eliminating a serious safety problem that existed when people parked on the side of the road in order to walk into the canyon. Hundreds of homes are only a short distance from the canyon, and people already had easy access to it prior to the construction of the parking lot.

As a result of a Memorandum of Understanding currently being negotiated with the city (which will allow the NPS to be the sole manager of the park), Petroglyph will receive a substantial budget increase. This will allow the hiring of two new interpreters to help visitors appreciate and understand the park; it will make possible the hiring of a new protection ranger to help keep the resource safe; and it has already included the hiring of a new maintenance person with expertise in trail planning and maintenance.

Finally, a meeting between NPS and National Parks and Conservation Association last month resulted in the park's commitment to address some specific concerns of the NPCA, including implementing a pilot program of guided tours in Rinconada Canyon at periods of greatest use, and encouraging visitors through signs and information kiosks to stop by the visitor center for information and orientation before touring the park.

Overall, while the HCN article accuses the NPS of poor resource management at Petroglyph, it provided almost no evidence that this is actually the case. In fact, there is a great deal of evidence as cited above that the NPS has worked hard to protect Petroglyph under some of the most difficult circumstances facing any NPS unit anywhere. The NPS considers it an honor to be trusted with the management of remarkable places like Petroglyph National Monument, and it is a responsibility we take very seriously. We expect to earn the public's trust at each and every unit of the National Park System, and are working hard to ensure that we have that trust not only in the community of Albuquerque, but with each and every person who cares about the wonders Petroglyph has to offer.

Karen P. Wade

Denver, Colorado

The writer is director of the Intermountain Region of the National Park Service.

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