Bill seeks to bolster ENMU, parks partnership

By Karl Terry: PNT Managing Editor

A Senate memorial bill passed late last week seeks to build on a partnership between Eastern New Mexico University and New Mexico State Parks Division in operating the Blackwater Draw Archaeological site north of Portales.

The bill, which was approved unanimously by the Senate and has been signed by the governor, calls for the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department, of which State Parks is a division to conduct a study on how the university and SPD can work together to provide more public access at the site.

“What we’re trying to do is get the Parks Department and Eastern working together, and they’ve been doing that,” Sen. Stuart Ingle, R-N.M. said. “Hopefully it (public access) won’t be something the university will have to try and maintain.”

The measure, sponsored by Ingle, is not legally binding, nor does it have money attached to it to do the study. The fiscal impact report on the bill, prepared by the Legislative Finance Committee notes that the EMNRD normally would need $15,000 to do such a study but because of the proximity to Oasis State Park and that park staff’s familiarity with the site EMNRD officials believe it can be accomplished for significantly less. The money for the study will likely come out of SPD’s regular operating budget, the report notes.

The fiscal impact report notes the study, which would be presented to an interim committee in December, should also include analyzing its potential as a state park.

“That’s probably what they’re going to be taking a look at,” Ingle said of the possibility of the site becoming a state park. “That would be up to them (SPD) to decide.”

John Montgomery, director of the Agency for Conservation Archaeology at ENMU said the university and its president Steven Gamble have been in active conversation for some time with SPD director Dave Simons for some time. He said the recent success in accomplishing a project with SPD to erect new signage and an outdoor classroom shelter at the BWD site prompted more exploration of cooperation between the two entities.

“Because Oasis is located so close to the Black Water Draw Site, we thought we might find ways we could work together,” Montgomery said. “It’s certainly something we’ve thought about carefully and our steps will be very tentative as we move forward.”

Both Montgomery and Ingle noted that the university has had problems staffing the site properly to keep it open regular hours for the public, often depending on volunteers. They also noted that upkeep on roads at the site are another major issue for public access which ENMU struggles to fund.

The site is one of the best known Paleo-Indian archaeology sites in North America, according to ENMU printed material. Excavations there have uncovered some of the earliest evidence of human occupation in North America. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1961.