New Mexico’s White Sands Becomes America’s Newest National Park

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The 140,000-plus-acre park protects the world’s largest gypsum dune field.

After 86 years as a national monument, the world’s largest gypsum dune field has become a national park. On Dec. 20, President Trump signed the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020, which included a provision to re-designate New Mexico’s White Sands National Monument as the nation’s 62nd national park.    

The change has been championed by many in the state’s congressional delegation including Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM), who introduced the White Sands National Park Establishment Act in the Senate.

“[It’s] one of the most spectacular natural wonders on Earth,” he told the Co-op Journal last fall as the legislation was making its way through Congress. 

The act cites the monument’s importance in protecting the dune field’s unique environment, which has been described as a desert Galapagos thanks to the 800-plus species of animals uniquely adapted to thrive in the park’s harsh conditions. But the act also recognizes the park’s significant role in the local economy. In 2018, the then monument saw just over 600,000 visitors.

According to the Outdoor Industry Association, outdoor recreation generates $9.9 billion in consumer spending and $623 million in state and local tax revenue in the state each year, and it is directly responsible for some 99,000 jobs. In April, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed bipartisan legislation to establish an office dedicated to outdoor recreation, making it the 12th state to do so. 

“We are going to bring in businesses that enliven our rural communities, partner with our tribes and pueblos, and we are going to send a beacon to tourists and young adults the world over: New Mexico is yours to explore,” Lujan Grisham said in a February statement.

The provision will also increase the park’s size and provide for easier access thanks to a land swap with the neighboring White Sands Missile Range.