Efforts for the preservation of open space lands began in the 1960s with a few visionary individuals. These early efforts resulted in the acquisition of over 8,500 acres of land by 1968.
The City Goals Committee wrote in 1969, that the goal is "to preserve the unique natural features of the metropolitan area by achieving a pattern of development and open space respecting the river, land, mesa, mountains, volcanoes, and arroyos." With these words the movement to preserve the features of the city's natural settings had been given official sanction.
Citizens groups were formed to watch over each element of the city's open space: the Bosque del Rio Grande Nature Preserve Society, Save the Volcanoes, Save the Sandias, and Save the Arroyos. In 1975 these groups were brought together under the banner of the citizens Open Space Task Force led by facilitator Philip Tollefsrud. That same year, the City/County Comprehensive Plan was published. The Plan for Major Public Open Space is one of three volumes of the Comprehensive Plan. It calls for acquisition or public control of the major features of the city's natural setting. Elected officials and voters got behind the effort to preserve open space.
The city was successful in obtaining all of the five volcanic cones, nearly 4,000 acres on top of the west mesa and volcanic escarpment; a 177-acre nature preserve parcel adjacent to the Rio Grande (Candelaria Farm), and about 1,000 acres in the Sandia foothills. Financing for these acquisitions came largely from land trades, general obligation bonds and federal matching funds through the Land and Water Conservation Fund. From 1973 to 1983, not a single local bond issue for open space acquisition failed.
Elena Gallegos Grant
Since the early 1970's, open space advocates had their eye on part of the historic Elena Gallegos grant, an 8,000-acre parcel that comprised one fourth of the city's Sandia Mountain backdrop. In 1980 talk of developing this land by its owners, the Albuquerque Academy, prompted the city to secure a two-year option to buy the property. The search for federal funding for the $26,000,000 property was unproductive. Finally, near the end of the two-year option period, the U.S. Forest Service offered to trade 18,000 acres of federal surplus land from around the state for the Elena Gallegos grant. The offer was turned down by the Academy. Just before the option expired, a citizen group came forward with a plan to purchase the grant with a local three-year quarter-cent sales tax. The plan also called for the city to trade off the grant land to the Forest Service for the federal surplus lands. Those lands would then be sold by the city, and the proceeds placed in a permanent trust fund for open space management. The plan won the early support of mayor Harold Kinney and the leadership of the City Council. In a massive public campaign, over 15,000 people signed petitions urging the City Council to impose a quarter cent tax, and the grant was purchased in July of 1982. The city retained a 640-acre mountain park site in the grant and traded over 7,000 acres to the Forest Service. The 640 acre mountain park is now the site of the Elena Gallegos Picnic area/Albert G. Simms Park.
The Open Space Trust Fund provided a means by which other city open space areas were managed and developed for appropriate recreational use. Several proposals had been advanced to manage the Rio Grande and bosque (river forest) as a nature preserve and recreation area. In 1983 city officials gave staff the go ahead to approach the state legislature to authorize creation of Rio Grande Valley State Park to be managed by the city. The bill authorizing the park passed unanimously in both houses of the legislature and was signed into law by the governor in March 1983. The Rio Grande Valley State Park embraces a 20-mile section of the river running through the heart of Albuquerque. Facilities include trails, picnic areas, and access points with plans for rafting and canoe launch areas.
Rex Funk, for many years chairman and moving spirit of the Open Space Task Force, had played a major role in the acquisition of the Elena Gallegos area and the creation of the Rio Grande Valley State Park. Mr. Funk became the first director of the Open Space Division which was created in 1984.
The creation of the Open Space Division allowed for personnel to properly manage and maintain Open Space lands. Three sections were formed within the Division: Operations and Maintenance, Law Enforcement and Visitor Services. The Operations and Maintenance section is charged with the responsibility of overseeing all park maintenance needs, including fencing, trail work, and building upkeep.
The Law Enforcement section was added to the Division in 1986. Open Space law enforcement officers were fully commissioned police officers who ensured the protection of the natural and archaeological resources within Open Space Division managed lands. This section held 15 positions, including one chief and three sergeants. After 2000 Open Space Officers were absorbed into the larger APD system.
The Resource Management and Visitor Services section was added to the division in 1989. With this addition, several programs are now offered to raise awareness and educate people about the environment, and the Open Space Program.
In the early 1990's, the city's Open Space Division joined forces with the National Park Service to manage the Petroglyph National Monument. The city had already acquired land along the petroglyph-rich volcanic escarpment, and had approved the NW Mesa Escarpment Plan to protect the area and its rock art. The combined resources of the city, state, and federal government are now at work acquiring and managing these important lands. Over 20,000 petroglyphs and a 1000-room adobe pueblo site are protected by these joint efforts.
After a long planning effort that included extensive monitoring of vegetation and wildlife, the Bosque Action Plan was approved by the city, state and county in 1993. This allowed the various agencies involved in managing the bosque to work together with defined guidelines for preservation. Environmental education programs include the Summer Series, guided hikes, interpretive tours for school groups, service learning projects, and teacher workshops.
The Trail Watch Volunteer Program was instituted in 1994. Trail Watch Volunteers are regular visitors to open space areas that serve as extra eyes and ears for the Division. In 1996, a non-profit group the Open Space Alliance (OSA), was formed. This allowed the Division to receive additional support, such as the Community Interpreters Of The Environment program, (C.I.O.T.E.). These are volunteers who are trained to assist with leading environment education programs. Additionally, the OSA has contributed with volunteer trail maintenance and clean-up projects.
1996 also saw the addition of working with another not-for-profit group called the Rio Grande Community Farms (RGCF). This group manages the farming of Los Poblanos Fields, a North Valley agricultural area owned and managed by the Open Space Division. The sustainable agricultural methods used by RGCF help to preserve wildlife habitat for the migratory bird population that is prominent in the North Valley of Albuquerque where the land is located. Education programs, service learning projects and demonstration gardens are all part of the activities that take place at the farms.
In 1997, Citizens once again approved a 1/4 cent tax increase that was in effect from 1998-2000. The tax raised approximately $36 million dollars to purchase over 2,000 acres of land proposed as major public Open Space. Two properties that were acquired in 1998 include Los Poblanos Fields (formerly know as Anderson Fields), and Tres Pistolas. Other acquisitions included the Atrisco Terrace, Hubbell Oxbox, Manzano/Four Hills and Alamo Farms properties.
The Open Space Visitor Center near the Piedras Marcadas Pueblo officially opened in 2006. The Visitor Center is a great place to get an introduction to the Open Space Program.