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Castner Range Pushed as New National Monument for Latinos

Conservation advocates want the Biden Administration to declare Castner Range, a 7,000-acre plot of land outside El Paso, Texas, a national monument to give Mexican-Americans and other Latinos a public space for hiking and other outdoor activities.

Castner Range is a former U.S. Army artillery training facility sitting in desert terrain, and conservation advocates have been trying to preserve it for public use for decades.

The 2021 Place Story Culture Report has recently dubbed Castner Range as a Latino Heritage site that currently lacks recognition or protection, even though it played a significant role in the survival of early Spanish pioneers who settled in Texas and New Mexico.

El Paso, a city with 679,000 residents, where 82% are Latino residents, has seen rapid growth over the last few years due to its location along the U.S.-Mexico border. Unlike other cities with high percentages of Latino residents, they lack outdoor spaces.

It led to El Paso not having a culture for hiking and outdoor exploration, unlike Albuquerque, New Mexico, Tucson, Arizona, and Denver, according to Janae’ Reneaud Field, executive director of the Frontera Land Alliance.

Families in the area will need to travel for about an hour and a half to visit White Sands National Park or one hour to visit Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument.

Some areas within the range are restricted to hikers because of unexploded ordinances today. However, a designation would permit the federal government to examine the area and create trails.

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland hiked close to Castner Range last month at advocates’ request. She also heard from residents of the community on their suggestions regarding a potential monument.

The Biden administration hasn’t announced its plans with Castner Range yet. The Department of Interior also declined to make any comments.

U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-Texas) has proposed a bill to designate Castner Range as a national monument. However, advocates argue that the Biden administration can also make this declaration as per the Antiquities Act.

“Make no mistake — it is within President Biden’s authority under the Antiquities Act to take swift action to protect the Castner Range and establish the Castner Range National Monument,” Mike Murray, chair of the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks, said in a statement after Haaland’s visit.

After the murder of the 25-year-old Black Jogger in Georgia, outdoor groups and businesses all over the U.S. launched campaigns and initiatives to change the way Black Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, and Native Americans engage the outdoors.

The pandemic also brought people outside for social activities, but El Paso only had a few options.

According to a report, Latino Outdoors, one of the biggest networks of outdoor recreation for Hispanic Americans, reported a rise in interest nationwide during the pandemic, with chapters opening in Las Vegas, Arkansas, and Connecticut.

This article originally appeared on Axios.


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