Tigua plan would open more of Hueco Tanks

El Paso Times

By Laura Smitherman

The Tigua Indian tribe Friday released a management plan for Hueco Tanks State Historical Park that would make the tribe the steward of the 860-acre area where access has been restricted in recent years.

"This is a plan that opens up the park for everyone in the community," said Mare Schwartz, tribal spokesman. "Hueco Tanks is part of the history of this community, certainly very important to Native Americans and the tribe, and it's also a recreational facility."

The Tiguas have asked the state for management control or outright ownership of the land before, but this is the first formal Tigua proposal with public comments. The plan would open many nowrestricted areas in the park.

Ray Sierra, who had been the park manager at Hueco Tanks for five years before

A draft plan, prepared by the Tigua-retained Cultural Consultants inc., was presented Friday at a public hearing The first hearing was last February. A final plan will be compiled after the public comment period ends this month.

So far, Schwartz said, the tribe has not had "direct dialogue" with the Texas parks and Wildlife Department which administers the state park

A climber scales the side of Mushroom Rock at Hueco Tanks State Historical Park. Access to the park has been restricted in recent years.

Have your say

Comments on the Tigua's management plan for Hueco Tanks State Historical Park will be accepted through Feb. 29. Send com- 119 S. Old Pueblo Road; El Paso, TX 79907.

"It's a matter of balancing visitor interest and resource protection", Sierra said. Hundreds of plant and animal species, including the Texas horned lizard that has been designated as threatened by the sate, live in Hueco Tanks. Its also home to many archaeological finds and more than 2.000 Native American pictographs. And rock climbers consider the park a "world-class" site.Critics of the state's public-use plan claim that not all interests were considered. Tiguas complain their First Amendment rights are abridged when they have to take a tour guide to places where they have religious ceremonies. Rock climbers say they rarely get tour guides for their purposes.

The Tigua plan would protect resources and critical habitats, said Adolph Greenberg, who worked on the proposal. It would create a ranger monitoring program with help from volunteers and the Tigua Tribal Police.

"This plan includes all people with an interest in planning the use of the park instead of having a dictator in Austin telling us what we can do with our park", said Jeff Drucker of the ElPaso Climbers Club.

George S. Esher of Cultural Consultants Inc., right, answered questions Friday during a public hearing on a proposed management plan for Hueco Tanks State Historical Park. The plan would give control of the 860-acre park to the Tigua Indian tribe.

taking the helm at Franklin Mountain State Park last week, said the parks agency and the state Legislature would have to approve the Tigua plan. As for his opinion on a Tigua takeover, he's against it.

"I feel like we're doing a good job with Hueco Tanks, and I would like to see us keep it", Sierra said.

In September 1998, the state put into effect a public-use plan that limited access to the park in Eastern It Paso County.

More than two-thirds of the park is restricted to guided tours only, and in the area where unescorted hiking is still permitted, only 50 visitors are allowed at a time.

The number of visitors plummeted from about 70.000 in fiscal year 1997 to 17,500 in the past fiscal year. Also in that time, Sierra pointed out, minor injuries dropped 90 percent, along with decreases in new graffeti and fires.