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Chiricahua monument could become Arizona’s 4th national park

Chiricahua National Monument is one of Arizona’s unique sky islands, with a history of Geronimo, Buffalo Soldiers, and 1930s Civilian Conservation Corps, and if a bipartisan bill is finally passed by Congress this year, Arizona will It could become the fourth national park.

And that could mean more tourism and resources for communities near the Chiricahua Mountains Monument, known for its biodiversity and towering rocky pinnacles in the southeastern Arizona desert.

“It could definitely have a positive impact on nearby communities,” said Julie Blanchard, a National Park Service surveillance park ranger in southeastern Arizona.because Chiricahua
Campsites are limited and there are no discount facilities. More tourists will require more accommodation and restaurants, she said.

Arizona currently has three national parks and 13 national monuments: the Grand Canyon, Petrified Forest, and Saguaro. In March, Senator Mark Kelly (Democrat of Arizona) reintroduced the Chiricahua National Parks Act (a bill that would make Chiricahua National Monument a national park) for the second time.

The Senate bill is co-sponsored by Senator Kristen Cinema (Arizona). An accompanying bill was introduced in the House by Republican Tucson Rep. Juan Ciscomani, who said the bill was “a long awaited one.”

“A bipartisan bill designating Chiricahua National Monument as a national park would further promote conservation, promote tourism, and create economic opportunities in southern Arizona,” Kelly said. March statement. A similar bill passed the Senate in 2022, but failed to reach a vote in the House.

Cinema echoed Kelly in the same March statement, saying, “The addition of Chiricahua National Monument as Arizona’s fourth national park will boost tourism, create jobs and drive opportunities for Cochise County. will be,” he said.

Of the country’s 63 national parks, 27 attract more than one million people a year, and another 12 attract at least 500,000 visitors a year, according to the National Parks. Total NPS in 2022. His 2022 visitor count for Chiricahua National Monument was his 61,377, and the Grand Canyon visitor count was his 61,377. 4.7 million Number of visitors last year, according to NPS.

Rangers say Chiricahua won’t change much anytime soon, even if it does become a national park. For example, NPS’s Blanchard said the new designation doesn’t mean an automatic budget increase. More visitors could lead to further maintenance of existing trails and campgrounds.

“Nothing will change when it comes to the land and recreational opportunities,” Blanchard said. “The park area is not going to get any bigger. We are not going to acquire any more land.”

The nearest town, Wilcox, about 58 miles northwest of Chiricahua, is lobbying for park designation. Amber Bowlby, the city’s administrative assistant for development services, public works and roads, said in an email that the city will get more visitors as a gateway to the national parks, which will “strive for our communities.” and will have a positive impact on local businesses,” he said. ”

Chiricahua Park Ranger Suzanne Moody said the park could hire more staff and work on infrastructure such as parking if the park eventually gets more funding.

In contrast to national parks, monuments have little visitor and recreational infrastructure, according to the magazine. scientific progress. National park designation also generally means increased exposure in travel guides, documentaries, and even picture books chronicling the grandeur of America’s parks.

This could increase awareness of Chiricahua’s unique history and landscape, which the Apaches called “Rising Rock Country.” Literally a stepping stone for Geronimo, Camp Bonita in Chiricahua was home to an all-black Buffalo army unit sent in the late 1880s as part of an effort to capture Apache leaders.

President Calvin Coolidge called Chiricahua a “Wonderland of Rocks” on April 18, 1924 and designated Chiricahua a National Monument. The monument’s status protected the area’s unique cathedral, balance rock, and the on-site Fallaway Ranch once owned by Swedish immigrants. The Great Depression brought him even more attention with the construction of his CCC camp in Chiricahua’s Bonita Valley in 1934.

In one of the largest peacetime mobilizations, the CCC has sent 250,000 youth to labor camps across U.S. public lands to get people back to work, such as conserving resources, providing recreational areas, and building rural infrastructure. dispatched. The CCC people built trails, buildings, and signs that are still in use at dozens of locations in Arizona, including Colossal Cave Mountain Park, South Mountain Park, and Petrified Forest National Park.

“There’s a very special aura there in some ways, a sense of connection with people that might be hard to find elsewhere,” Moody said. “People probably come to Chiricahua for the scenery. Most of us don’t realize that Southern Arizona is more than just sand and cacti.

“Chiricahua seems to be a strong draw not only for tourists, but also for locals,” Moody added. “People probably expect it all to be desert, but we climb mountains with real oaks and pines, so it’s much cooler and it snows in the winter.”

From the Grand Canyon to Joshua Tree to Zion to the Olympics, some famous national parks started out as national monuments. New Mexico’s White Sands became a national park in 2019. recreational visits The population of White Sands National Park increased from 608,785 in 2019 to 705,127 last year.

However, visitors may not always see significant changes when a monument becomes a national park. Saguaro National Park, which was a national monument of Arizona until 1994, had seen no increase in visitor numbers in the 12 years since he was designated a national park. In 1994, the park had 768,685 visitors. Saguaro finally saw his visitor numbers increase to 820,426 in 2016, and in 2019 he topped the million mark. In 2022, 908,194 people visited the park, according to NPS data.

Spending in communities near national parks has increased as visitors have increased. According to 2021 statistics, 297 million park visitors spent an estimated $20.5 billion in local gateway regions while visiting National Park Service lands across the country. National park visitor spending effect
report. That year in Arizona, more than 10 million visitors spent an estimated $1.1 billion in local gateway areas visiting National Park Service lands.

Time Spent Only by Visitors to Saguaro National Park in 2021 $77.4 million The gateway community includes $26.2 million in lodging and $15.2 million in restaurants, according to NPS. that year, Visitors to Chiricahua National Monument He spent just $3.5 million in total, including $1 million for lodging and $650,000 for restaurants.

Chiricahua is a 27-million-year-old volcanic eruption that left behind a 600-meter-tall layer of pumice and ash that coalesced to form rhyolitic tuff, which weathered into pillars rising from the desert floor. It is believed to have been formed after becoming a maze. The region is an isolated mountain range in southeastern Arizona and northern Mexico that rises more than 6,000 feet above the surrounding desert and produces a unique set of biodiversity in the region, making it an island in the sky. is called

The region is home to unique animals such as the Mexican Jay, which occupies only a small portion of the United States. And in 2021, Chiricahua will join the Tucson-based team. International Dark Sky Associationof park list
“has an exceptional or outstanding quality of stargazing and nocturnal environment that is specially protected for scientific, natural, educational, cultural heritage, and/or public enjoyment.”

“The Chiricahua National Monument has long been a beloved landmark in southern Arizona,” Ciscomani said in a March statement. “These unique topography draw tourists to our state from all over the country and around the world, and this tourism is an important part of our local economy. They’re finally getting the designation they deserve, and I can’t wait.”

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