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Gypsum Dunes
Eco Restoration Gypsum Dunes Shamrock Island

 

From the Spring '99, Volume 24, No. 1 Issue of Horizon
by Niki Frances McDaniel
Horizons Editor

Reprinted by permission of The Nature Conservancy of Texas, copyright 2000

GYPSUM DUNES - A FUTURE IN COMMUNITY-BASED CONSERVATION

The white sands of Gypsum Dunes Preserve undulate over the Chihuahuan Desert floor in brilliant contrast to the dark, towering face of the Guadalupe Mountains nearby. Created by the wind blowing across the barren salt flats to the southwest, these 100-foot-high dune slopes give rise to an ecologically unique and fragile habitat.

In Hudspeth County, east of Dell City in Far West Texas near the border of New Mexico, the harsh conditions of the land and sheer isolation left Gypsum Dunes largely undisturbed through the years. The purchase of 177 acres of the habitat by The Nature Conservancy of Texas in 1980 helped protect this starkly beautiful "moonscape" adjacent to Guadalupe Mountains National Park. Eventually, the national park expanded to include lands surrounding the preserve.

Now, as part of its commitment to community-based conservation, The Nature Conservancy of Texas plans to transfer ownership of Gypsum Dunes Preserve to the Hudspeth Directive for Conservation, a local land trust, while retaining a conservation easement (a legal instrument that ensures conservation) on the land. Ultimately, the Hudspeth land trust will convey ownership of the preserve to the national park, where it can be better integrated into future planning, with the Conservancy continuing to hold the conservation easement.

Formed in 1983 as a citizens' action group to address threats of toxic waste dumping, the Hudspeth Directive has evolved a new mission to address the broader conservation needs of the region with communities, businesses, private landowners and other organizations. While there are several individual conservation successes in the area, the land trust seeks ways to bring diverse conservation interests into partnership.

In recent years, Guadalupe Mountains National Park has been "discovered" by the nature-loving public. Increasing popularity is a mixed blessing for the region, bringing greater appreciation for the natural beauty there and increasing economic opportunities while increasing the pressures of human encroachment. A new entrance to the park is planned on its west side, near Dell City, to give access to the dunes. 

Linda Lynch, director of the Hudspeth land trust, has spent a lifetime exploring both the dunes and the nearby mountains. "Any time in life when you are privileged enough to stand in a place of extreme beauty and solitude, you are changed forever. The Gypsum Dunes and the Guadalupe Mountains are such places," she said. "These are not places of great comfort, yet if you prepare yourself to encounter them on their own terms, they are deeply rewarding.

"The Gypsum Dunes especially demand a degree of personal exposure. If you go there in daylight, you will soon realize that you are the only creature unwise enough to wander out at that time, and it will seem as though you are alone. Venturing there at night, you will likely be visited by a surprising number of desert dwellers, from badgers to great horned owls, and you will be astonished at the darkness and clarity of the night sky.

"But I think it is the remarkable display of light, the dunes close proximity to the western face of the Guadalupe Mountains, and the uncanny stillness that are particularly striking at the Gypsum Dunes."

To protect this rare site, the Hudspeth Directive for Conservation is working to bring various interests together to plan the new entrance in ways that benefit the park, the dune ecology and the Dell City community.

"We are making the effort now to have input to the park administration on development of the west side," Lynch said. "Our desire is to see a plan implemented that is based on lowest possible human impact to the dunes. The park administration has expressed agreement that very low-level development near the dunes is desirable."

For example, if all the park's new staff buildings, administration offices, retail facilities and RV hook-ups related to the new entrance are in Dell City, 15 miles from the dune area, it would achieve two things: low development impact at the dunes and positive economic development in Dell City. "If the local community directly benefits from these developments, the park will experience better public relations and support for preserving the dunes," Lynch points out.

To read more about the Texas gypsum dunes, go to Glistening Dunes

(Photo credit:  George Oxford Miller)

 

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