Since President Barack Obama created the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument in 2014, visitation has tripled and the national monument has spurred economic growth in the Las Cruces area as well as other communities near the national monument, according to a new report.
Carrie Hamblen, the president of the Las Cruces Green Chamber of Commerce and a state senator, said that before the designation the organization contracted a report looking at potential economic benefits if a national monument was designated.
The study was conducted by BBC Research and Consulting. The consultants revisited it this year to determine exactly how the national monument designation has impacted the local communities in Doña Ana and Luna counties. Michael Verdone, the director of BBC Research and Consulting, said the economic impacts exceed what was previously estimated by about 50 percent. He said visitation increased from about 184,000 people in 2012 to 612,000 in 2022.
The group released the new report last Wednesday, a decade after the initial report was completed.
In addition to tripling visitation, out-of-town visitors brought $35 million in economic impacts to the region in 2022 and $234 million over the last decade. The report found that spending from visitors supports 305 jobs in the area. The national monument has also benefited tax revenues. The visitation to the monument resulted in $1.9 million in tax revenue in 2022 and, over the past decade, has contributed nearly $13 million in taxes.
Verdone said the economic impacts that a national monument can have are in part based on the number of visitors that it brings in, but location can also play a role.
Another factor can be the proximity of a national monument to a community. He said remote national monuments may not have the same level of economic impact.
He said another factor is whether the visitors make the trip primarily to see the national monument.
One of the other factors that influences economic impacts of national monuments is who might be interested in visiting it. Verdone said a national monument that attracts a niche group of tourists may not have as big of an impact as a national monument that can attract a wide range of interests such as backpacking, hiking and biking.
Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks has many advantages in these categories. It is located close to cities like Las Cruces where visitors can spend the night or visit restaurants, shops and breweries. It also caters to a wide range of interests including mountain biking and hiking.
“This report is really a full circle moment for the community because it shows that everything we hoped would happen, all of our dreams have come true and that we have the data to show it and not just for the economics but for greater conservation,” State Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, who is also the executive director of Outdoor New Mexico, said.
Visit Las Cruces Director Rochelle Miller-Hernandez said that the visitors have come from every state in the country and that there has been an increase in visitors from households that make less than $25,000 annually.
“We have seen a number of wonderful outcomes as a result of the monument designation,” Hamblen said.
She gave examples of local businesses creating products such as cocktails based on the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument. Additionally, she spoke of Las Cruces’ Monuments to Main Street events that feature outdoor recreation in the national monument as well as community events downtown.
Verdone said that part of the success that Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument has experienced is due to support from the communities, including places like Las Cruces.
The creation of the national monument itself came through grassroots efforts.
“I just want to thank everyone for the foresight in creating this monument,” Hatch Mayor James “Slim” Whitlock said. “It gives me great comfort to know that my children and my grandchildren will be able to teach their children and grandchildren the same lessons that my parents and grandparents taught me in this very area. And it’s unique to only this part of the world. And it’s worth sharing.”
The national monument is managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.
“We have always recognized that the establishment of the monument was due in large part to the grassroots effort at the local community organizations and individuals,” Melanie Barnes, the state BLM director, said. “And due to this engaged and proud community, the monument has seen an increase in visitation.”
She said the BLM is working on a resource management plan that will address land use and resource protection. The public scoping period for that plan recently ended.
Barnes said that when a national monument is designated, it requires different management practices than other BLM lands. The resource management plan will allow the BLM to evaluate which areas should allow different types of recreation and what parts of the national monument need more protections to ensure natural resources are not damaged.
Miller-Hernandez said the tourism campaigns are taking into account the potential impact people might have on the ecosystem and they are conscious of promoting the Leave No Trace principles.