Thank you to our City Council for your vote Feb. 6 to preserve natural open space in Northeast El Paso next to our Franklin Mountains State Park and Castner Range. This action will benefit all current and future El Pasoans by increasing options for healthy recreation, healthy living, improved quality of life, and promoting ecotourism. It also will save taxpayer expenses, especially by reducing the cost of flood control infrastructure.
The City Council voted to purchase Knapp Canyon property using 2012 Quality of Life Bond funds and El Paso Stormwater funds that are dedicated for the preservation of open space. However, great as this is, this land is NOT yet permanently protected. Future City Councils may choose to sell or trade any land they own for future development.
To protect this and other natural open space in perpetuity, the city should attach a conservation easement to the deed that permanently limits uses of the land and protects its conservation value. Another option would be to transfer the Knapp land to the Franklin Mountains State Park. Doing so would save the city, and its taxpayers, expenses for land management and maintenance.
The value gained by the city of El Paso when land remains as natural open space far outweighs the short-term profit from selling the land.
El Pasoans may be surprised by the immense health benefits they can gain just from being outside in a natural setting. Being outdoors in nature is the easiest and best way to reduce your stress level. Cheryl Charles, co-founder of the Children & Nature Network (March 18, 2013), documents extensive research that shows the benefits to children are even greater. Children who spend time outdoors are likely to be: happier, healthier, smarter, more cooperative, better problem solvers, and more creative. For these reasons, El Paso needs to protect more natural open space and improve our access to it.
Those new to desert life may underestimate the impact of floods in El Paso — not so for those of us who were here in 2006, when 15 inches of rain in four days caused $180 million in damage to property locally. Every time we build roads and houses that create impervious surfaces on desert land, we increase flooding downhill. Attempts by humans to control the natural dynamic flow of stormwater has unpredictable results. The impact is most significant when building happens on our mountainside. Engineering solutions with concrete are expensive and only increases peak flood water damage. In our desert, arroyos are nature’s way of filtering stormwater and allowing recharge of our aquifers. As Frontera Land Alliance Executive Director Janae’ Reneaud Field said, “Leaving the lands as natural lands greatly reduces any future expenses that would be needed to maintain infrastructure, address flooding, and increase need for water for the growing population, resulting in decreased taxpayer expenses in the future.”
Please encourage your City Council representative to protect additional open space lands around the Franklin Mountains. Ask your representative to explore ways to permanently protect city-owned land from development with conservation easements or donations to our state park.
Our Franklin Mountains and the land around them are El Paso’s greatest natural resource. Please protect it, and pass on to future generations the beauty, wildlife, water and natural resources we have today.