Over the past several weeks, Elephant Butte Lake State Park’s (EBLSP) new superintendent, Dr. Lillis Urban, has attended municipal gatherings throughout Sierra County, introducing herself to community leaders and residents. In addition to outlining her personal and professional history, and expressing excitement with her new opportunity, Dr. Urban has shared some of the latest information about current and upcoming programs, as well as plans for significant upgrade projects in the works. During a brief interview February 10, EBLSP’s superintendent reviewed this information and highlighted other efforts she and park staff members will be focusing on in 2020.
LECTURE SERIES WELL-RECEIVED
Beginning on January 8, EBLSP staff and volunteers initiated a renewed public education effort, hosting free weekly seminars at the park’s Richard Cooper Training Center every Wednesday evening, beginning at 6 p.m.
Featuring a lineup of interesting topics and respected guest speakers, EBLSP’s special offering has been heartily welcomed by community members. Dr. Urban said the first three seminars each have attracted more than sixty guests and noted program organizers are looking forward to welcoming similar crowds for the remaining presentations. These weekly offerings not only offer citizens a chance to learn more about the nature and culture of southern New Mexico and surrounding wildlife, but staff members and Friends of EBLSP volunteers have stepped forth to ensure guests will also be provided tasty treats and refreshments.
The park’s lecture series is now at the mid-way mark, with three more scheduled gatherings set for February 19, March 4 and March 18. The February 19 seminar will focus on “the Birds of Elephant Butte Lake State Park. The March 4 gathering will center on botany and southwest cultures, with “Nature’s Supermarket” as the theme. The special series will conclude on March 18, with an in-depth look at local geology entitled “Rocks and Hot Water.” Further information about the upcoming seminars or past programs may be obtained by contacting EBLSP officials at (575) 744-5923 extension-0.
BEACH CLEAN-UP FEBRUARY 22
Volunteers with the Friends of EBLSP organization will be hosting their first annual Beach Clean-Up Day from 9 a.m. until Noon, Saturday, February 22. With at least a dozen local sponsors joining in the effort, the Beach Clean-Up will also feature a raffle and sponsor donated prizes. All volunteers will receive a free raffle ticket for helping out.
Park entrance fees will be waived for all those participating in the clean-up. Anyone who would like to join in the effort is encouraged to make their way to the water’s edge at the end of Ridge Road (leading to Rattlesnake Island) for the 9 a.m. start. Trash bags, as well as water and energy sustaining snacks will be provided.
Further information about the February 22 clean-up is encouraged to contact park officials at (575) 744-5923 extension-0.
MAJOR ROAD PROJECT ON DECK
One of many promising items Dr. Urban recently shared with community leaders, was the initiation and funding of a roadway upgrade project along Lakeshore Drive/Rock Canyon Road.
In recognizing a need to address areas that frequently wash-out, or otherwise create hazardous conditions for drivers along this rural byway north of Elephant Butte’s City limits, the superintendent said state park authorities previously targeted five specific locations for improvements. Proceeding towards this intent, Dr. Urban said the state park was able to secure approximately $9 million to address two of the five identified trouble spots. Officials with the Bureau Of Reclamation joined in with this effort, earning an approximate $1 million through a Federal Lands Access Program (FLAP) application.
While this was being viewed as a positive step, members of a FLAP decision committee examined the project in mid-January and opted to bolster funding enough to address all five of the identified locations.
Dr. Urban said an “ambitious” schedule was now in the works, with initial focus being placed on the construction of two 110-foot bridges, culverts and related improvements. She noted the Federal Highway Administration would be serving as the project’s lead agency and confirmed current efforts were targeting a design and engineering phase for 2020, with construction to follow in 2021. All told, EBLSP’s superintendent said present anticipations are looking for the initial phase to be completed within three years.
Reemphasizing this was a tentative schedule, Dr. Urban indicated she was nonetheless pleased by the federal government’s assistance and said the overall project could be expected to greatly improve safety along the roadway for both park patrons and community residents.
•A recent upgrade, which Dr. Urban suggested was another important improvement for park patrons, was EBLSP’s connection of water lines and service from Elephant Butte’s New Mexico Water Company. She said the park expended $316,771 in establishing lines and completing the connections, and noted the move allowed the facility to bypass two old and failing wells.
•In the coming months, EBLSP authorities are also aiming to move forward with a sewer lift station and forced main replacement project for Rock Canyon facilities. The superintendent said funding for this effort would be derived from Governmental Gross Receipt Tax (GGRT) revenue through the state park’s Boat Access Fund. She said approximately $800,000 had been earmarked for the project, which is now being reviewed by officials with the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR).
Dr. Urban explained how EBLSP is in a unique position, as the facility is effectively leased to the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department (EMNRD) by the BOR. Because of this, major projects and improvement efforts must be successfully processed through two separate bureaucratic structures, adding a degree of difficulty to most preliminary processes and effectively prolonging project timelines.