By Janae Reneaud
El Paso these days is buzzing with a community-based effort to make Castner Range a National Monument. The El Paso Community Foundation, The Frontera Land Alliance and the Franklin Mountains Wilderness Coalition are leading this effort. El Pasoans are asking President Obama to use his authority under the 1906 Antiquities Act to protect Castner Range as a national monument by transferring ownership from the Department of Defense to the Department of the Interior. Creating a National Monument would honor Castner’s cultural, historical, scientific and environmental connections to the region and, most importantly, preserve and protect the land from urban sprawl forever.
“The actions we take today have long-lasting consequences for our state and for our future,” says Janaé Reneaud Field, Executive Director of The Frontera Land Alliance, the El Paso area’s only 501(c) 3 land-trust organization. “Living in El Paso wouldn’t be the same without our city’s backdrop (Castner Range) to hike and explore and to enjoy the clean, safe water that helps recharge our aquifers. As our region continues to grow, a ‘national monument’ designation for Castner would have a profound impact on the future of El Paso, our international borderplex, our local economy and our future generations.” Within its boundaries Castner Range includes 25 percent of the Franklin Mountains, which constitute the southern-most extension of America’s Rocky Mountains. The Franklins are one of our nation’s very few mountain ranges located in the middle of an urban area. Castner’s treasured 7,081 acres are home to rich wildlife, three distinct ecosystems, and a wide array of vegetation along with significant water resources in an area that abuts the world’s largest binational community. “The Chihuahuan Desert—in which Castner Range is located—is one of the most biodiverse deserts on the planet. We have species of plants and animals in this part of the country that do not exist anywhere else on earth, and Castner Range provides El Pasoans with beautiful mountain views on a daily basis,” states Dr. Amy Wagler, a member of Frontera’s board of directors and an active participant in the Castner Range initiative.
Still U.S. Army property and a closed artillery range since 1966, Castner is in nearly pristine condition today because of its potential for unexploded ordnance which has prompted the Range’s closure to all but authorized access. Since 1966, constant pressure to erect buildings on Castner’s flatter areas has been a threat to this natural treasure and remains so to this day.
The many pictographs found on the Range show the beginning of cultural interaction between people in a region that would one day become the world’s busiest international border crossing. Additionally, one of the Range’s most common archaeological artifacts are bedrock mortars for milling or grinding plant foods. Data collected on the Range have shown that settlement patterns shifted from a seasonal to a semi-base-camp strategy as hunting for large game decreased.
Most recently, Castner Range has witnessed more than 500 years of El Paso history and remains a constant memory for citizens of both Mexico and the United States who explored along the Camino Real de Tierra Adentro National Historic Trail. And from 1926-1966 the Range was used as a crucial training ground for soldiers based at Fort Bliss, an American installation that predates the Civil War. The name “Castner” comes from Army General Joseph Compton Castner, who as a young lieutenant served as Constructing Quartermaster at America’s first national park, Yellowstone, and who would eventually lead the Ninth Infantry Brigade during the Meuse-Argonne Operation of World War I. “Preserving this land as a national monument would signal to every American that Texans understand why celebrating our storied past is the best way for us to prepare for our future,” says Angel Peña, a native El Pasoan (Franklin High, Class of 2006) and a senior staffer with The Conservation Lands Foundation.
Business owners, community leaders, teachers, students, elected officials, the mayors of El Paso and Juárez, neighbors and friends stand united in support of making Castner Range a National Monument. We’ve gone way beyond our goal of getting 25,000 signatures on letters requesting a Monument. Film festivals, ball games, faith-based meetings, conservation gatherings, Zoo events, neighborhood association get-togethers, archaeology youth engagement and education, veterans’ ceremonies and hikes make up the endless parade of events where we’ve rallied support for protecting the Range. Since early this year the El Paso, Ysleta, and Canutillo school districts have supported the National Monument Initiative in creative and artistically-educational ways, teaching our youth about the importance of protecting wide-open spaces while engaging them in their cities’ community activities. And given the fact that the city surrounding Castner Range is one of the largest truly bilingual parts of America, our local supporters have produced Spanish- and English-language websites, brochures, Facebook sites, Twitter pages and several videos to showcase the whole community’s dedication to a Castner Range National Monument.
“It’s clear that the Castner Range has provided El Pasoans with a wide range of benefits over the years. Although the neighborhoods around the land may evolve, the Range itself has got to be conserved,” says Elizabeth Doyel, Executive Director, and Texas League of Conservation Voters.
In sum, designating Castner Range as a national monument is all about recognizing the world’s largest binational community’s storied past and preserving such history forever. Reneaud Field says: “Whether we live in the city or the countryside, we rely on the natural systems that support us, that affect our health and happiness and that give us a sense of place, pride and identity. Having clean water and air and plenty of natural open space attracts business and improves our standard of living. A healthy natural environment supports economic growth, improves public health and enhances our quality of life. Our hope therefore is that President Obama and Secretary of the Interior Jewell will embrace Castner Range just as they’ve done with other significant places throughout the United States.”
In order for President Obama to designate Castner Range as a National Monument, he needs to hear from you. We ask you to join the more than 25,000 Borderland residents who have already asked the President to make this designation. You can go to the following link to print or sign the letter: http://castnerrangenationalmonument.org/ . If you have any questions, please contact Janae@FronteraLandAlliance.org or phone Janaé at
Castner Range National Monument – Help Make Castner Range a National Monument!