To the editor:
I was delighted to read Bill Crist’s Viewpoint column in the Brownwood Bulletin (Wednesday, Oct. 24) regarding the issue of the Christmas Mountains and the position of Commissioner Patterson and the School Land Board. As president of the board of Friends of Big Bend National Park (FBBNP), I am very concerned with this issue and its ultimate resolution in favor of Big Bend National Park (BBNP).
I have met with Park Superintendent Wellman and Brewster County elected officials to determine how this might best be accomplished. On behalf of FBBNP I have written to Commissioner Patterson stating the board’s position in support of the BBNP request to delay the sale of the Christmas Mountains property. (See letter to Commissioner Patterson below.)
I can attest to the beauty of this rugged wilderness area and the need to preserve and conserve it under the stewardship of the National Park Service (NPS) for the benefit of the present and future generations of Texans and the Nation. For 13 years my wife and I served as volunteers in the Park and lived within the boundary of BBNP from 3 to 6 months at a time.
For 11 of those 13 years we lived in the small community of Marathon 40 miles north of the park entrance. This truly is an extraordinary part of Texas. People throughout the state, nation and the world come to enjoy the wonders of the Park, hike the trails, float the Rio Grande, view the abundant wildlife, enjoy the night skies or just experience unmatched solitude.
The Christmas Mountains are not only rugged and remote but rich in both archeological and paleontological resources that should be preserved, protected and studied. It is, as is the entire Big Bend Region, a great bird watching area; a non-consumptive activity that is of great economic value to Brewster County.
This land was given, in trust, to the General Land Office (GLO) for the people of Texas. This gift was made with the understanding that it would be transferred to the NPS or Texas Parks and Wildlife. Documents associated with the gift do state that the land can be sold to a private party only with the approval of the donor; this approval has not been given. Commissioner Patterson maintains that such a requirement is not legally enforceable. I am not an attorney and I do not know about the legality of such a stipulation; but I do know the value of an agreement between the State of Texas and donor of the property that was made for the benefit of the people of Texas.
I certainly understand Commissioner Patterson’s position in wishing to benefit the school children of Texas by the sale of this property. I would argue instead that the interest of the school children of Texas and the nation is best served by this land being under the stewardship of BBNP.
This ensures that the magnificent Christmas Mountains, as did the donation of the Harte Ranch area almost 20 years ago, will only enhance this gift Texans made more than 60 years ago. Under the administration of the Park, school children, scout organizations, college students, aspiring scientists, accomplished researchers and you and I will have access to this unique and priceless piece of Texas.
I do not understand Commissioner Patterson’s stated position that he would not transfer ownership of the property to the NPS unless the Park allowed hunting in the Christmas Mountains. He is fully aware of the long standing policy of the NPS on this issue. National parks are those special places in our Nation where one goes to observe and explore the natural wonders and have the thrill of viewing wildlife in their natural habitat.
Big Bend National Park is truly one of the “crown jewels” of the NPS. I am proud that I was able to be there and work with a dedicated and highly motivated park staff for 13 years.
I hope that Commissioner Patterson will reevaluate his position and delay the decision to sell the Christmas Mountains to private interests and favorably consider the request of Superintendent Wellman. This property should be open to all willing to hike, explore or experience the rugged wilderness.
If you agree, I urge you to make your position known to Commissioner Patterson and members of the School Land Board.
Letter to Commissioner Patterson:
Oct. 15, 2007
Honorable Jerry Patterson, Commissioner
Texas General Land Office
1700 N. Congress Ave. Suite 935
Austin, Texas 78701-1495
I am president of the board of directors for Friends of Big Bend National Park. Friends of Big Bend National Park is a non-profit partner of our state’s great national park with over 2,200 members throughout the state. Our mission is to promote and support the park and raise funds for projects that might not be initiated or completed due to funding shortfalls in the park’s budget. In our 10-year history, we have donated over $622,000 to Big Bend National Park for projects that range from the expansion of Panther Junction Visitors Center to an informational radio system to aid park visitors.
Friends of Big Bend National Park is supportive of Big Bend National Park’s request that you delay the sale of the Christmas Mountains at this time. Originally the Conservation Fund intended for this property to be a part of The Park. Big Bend National Park is now in a position to manage this land. This area would be an outstanding addition to The Park, which is a treasure given by the people of the State of Texas to the NPS and the citizens of the United States.
The Friends of Big Bend National Park Board of Directors’ position is that expanding the borders of Big Bend National Park and preserving the land under the stewardship of the NPS would be beneficial to the State of Texas.
We thank you for your service to the State of Texas, and we hope that you will keep in mind the intent of the Conservation Fund’s donation of the Christmas Mountains property.
Jack Lamkin, President
cc: Friends of Big Bend National Park Board of Directors