With New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s recent extension of COVID-19 health restrictions through May 15, potential initiation of a proposed reopening plan for Elephant Butte Lake State Park (EBLSP) and other state park facilities would not seem likely in the near term. However, state park authorities previously stated the present closure of facilities would be in effect until Thursday, April 30. This, combined with the Sierra County Commission’s April 21 resolution urging a relaxation of restrictions on parks and small businesses (see related story in this issue), a reported communication to the governor by Elephant Butte Mayor Edna Trager detailing similar requests, and a general turn in this regard across the nation, have community hopes high for a change in direction from a gubernatorial announcement set for 3 pm, April 30th.
Unfortunately for Sentinel patrons, the scheduled announcement by Governor Lujan Grisham was set to occur after our Thursday printing deadline. This aside, details pertaining to the afternoon press conference and any announcement regarding state park facilities will be posted on the Sentinel’s website (www.gpkmedia.com), FaceBook page and shared with listeners on KCHS Radio.
As of Thursday morning, rumors regarding an anticipated reopening of EBLSP and other state park facilities were persisting, urged forward by a FaceBook posting from the Elephant Butte Chamber of Commerce. This posting outlining an expected reopening of the park and modified day-use schedule, set to begin at 6 am Friday, May 1. In the communication, chamber of commerce officials stated EBLSP would open their gates for weekend day-use from 6 am until 8 pm Friday through Sunday, and weekdays, Monday through Thursday from 6 am until 4:30 pm.
Whether the governor opts to follow-through with this, or perhaps some other reopening plan/schedule Thursday afternoon, is as of this report, not yet known.
What is known, is that the closure of state park facilities, along with the full spectrum of other stunning COVID-19 health restrictions imposed in mid-March, has effectively kept most citizens huddled within their homes. Although the government’s response and imposed restrictions seem to have helped curb the virus’ spread through New Mexico, the health emergency clearly has yet to fully abate and the governor will no doubt be taking this factor into consideration.
Nonetheless, with “social distancing’ emphasized as a primary health precaution, a great many citizens immediately questioned the logic of barring public access to recreational facilities and outdoor activities. Many wondered why citizens were being prevented from accessing parks, hiking trails, green spaces and recreational areas where social distancing mandates could easily be respected. Since first initiated, this aspect of the health restrictions has been challenged, as the state’s natural areas readily provide peaceful spaces where individuals and families might seek relief from unprecedented stresses of the COVID-19 health emergency.
Another factor, which specifically relates to EBLSP, is a differing policy allowing public access to federal lands. While citizens have been unable to access Elephant Butte Lake through state controlled properties, boaters have continued to utilize the reservoir through Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) managed land in and about the dam and Dam Site Marina area.
A unique matrix of layered contracts supports the operation and management of EBLSP and surrounding wild land spaces. Recreational groups have recognized this issue, and over the past several weeks, many have been pressing officials at both state and federal levels to restore public access to New Mexico’s premier recreational destination.
Whether these factors and advances in efforts to control the spread of COVID-19 will be enough for the governor to approve a reopening plan before May 15 will perhaps become clear when she addresses citizens Thursday afternoon.
Regardless of the governor’s decision, citizens are clearly growing weary of being effectively locked-down. Most citizens are undoubtedly eager to engage in activities that can be enjoyed safely and within current health guidelines. In the case of parks and outdoor facilities, such could seemingly easily be achieved, along with the untold health and mental health benefits recreation and nature readily provide.