Commonweal Conservancy Q&A
1. What is the history of the Galisteo Basin Preserve and what makes it such a special place?
The Galisteo Basin is not a national monument. But it could be. The basin’s vast expanse of savannah grasslands, meandering arroyos, and pinon-juniper forest – framed by the Ortiz Mountains to the west and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to the northeast – comprise a landscape of subtle beauty. It is a place whose landforms set the stage for an ever-changing shadow play of light and clouds against an azure sky.
Since 2003, Commonweal Conservancy has spearheaded the permanent protection of more than 9,500 acres within the Galisteo Basin. The organization’s innovative, entrepreneurial conservation practice has served as a bulwark against the forces of rural residential sprawl that have despoiled the open spaces that frame many of New Mexico’s cities and towns.
Over the past 19 years, the Galisteo Basin Preserve (GBP) has become a place of recreation, refuge and reflection for tens of thousands of residents and visitors. It is a landscape that invites hikers, cyclists and equestrians to explore more than 42 miles of publicly-accessible trails that wind along ridgelines, sculpted canyons and grassy meadows.
In addition to its resident population of pronghorn, deer, bobcat and scores of other species, the preserve provides acritical link in a continental-scale migration corridor for bears and mountain lions. More than 130 species of birds reside on or travel through the preserve during their annual migrations.
The property also shelters a vast collection of cultural and historic artifacts. Many archaeologists consider the GBP a priceless cultural landscape: one that helps contextualize pre-Puebloan, Pre-Columbian, and early Spanish colonial history in the American Southwest.
With support from hundreds of volunteers, donors and property owners, Commonweal Conservancy has navigated years of economic uncertainty. Blessed with generous partners and improbable good fortune, the Galisteo Basin Preserve has come to be celebrated as the largest nonprofit-owned and managed open space and trails network in the American Southwest.
2. What are you most proud of about Commonweal’s work with the Galisteo Basin Preserve?
Commonweal Conservancy is an organization currently staffed by three part-time professionals. Over the past 19 years, these extraordinary individuals have demonstrated a passionate and unwavering commitment to the permanent protection of the GBP.
Between 2007-2018, Commonweal’s staff and board persevered through eleven years of economic recession: defending against threats of foreclosure and bankruptcy; cobbling together bridge financing; building and maintaining trails; restoring wildlife habitat; servicing roads and infrastructure; coordinating volunteers; hosting events; etc. Working as volunteers and/or at reduced pay for years, Commonweal’s staff have committed their lives to ensuring the GBP’s protection and tending to a community that cherishes the Galisteo Basin as a place of inspiration and refuge.
The permanent protection of the Galisteo Basin Preserve has been a journey graced by magicians and miracles. It is an experience that has affirmed our faith in the power of love and community.
3. What future Commonweal projects most excite you?
The responsibilities associated with stewarding a 9,500-acre trails and open space resource are complex and consuming. Each year, staff and volunteers are engaged in the design and construction of new trails, as well as the maintenance of the existing trails network. In 2022, the organization is making a major investment in the redesign and development of way finding and trailhead signage to ensure safe passage for hikers, cyclists and equestrians.
To accommodate an explosive demand in outdoor recreation since the start of the pandemic, Commonweal will be upgrading and expanding existing trailhead parking, as well as establishing a new trailhead for hikers and cyclists. We’ve also launched a handful of habitat enhancement projects – removing barbed wire fencing and developing water sources for wildlife. These are expensive and labor-intensive projects, but critical to the long-term protection and restoration of the preserve’s recreation, habitat and cultural resources.
Concurrently with our stewardship efforts, Commonweal has been working with the Santa Fe Conservation Trust to overlay the preserve with conservation easements. Through this collaboration, Commonweal will ensure that the trails and open spaces of the GBP are permanently protected by the end of the year.
Increasingly, the GBP has become a place for community gatherings and competitive events. In 2022, Commonweal will manage a full calendar of trail running and mountain bike competitions and will host workshops in trail building, trail maintenance and habitat enhancement.
Looking ahead to 2023 and beyond, Commonweal plans to work with other nonprofits and public conservation agencies to ensure that thousands of acres of riparian, forest and grassland resources adjoining the Galisteo Basin Preserve can be permanently protected.
A resurgent real estate market is imposing new pressures on the land and water resources of the region. Given the brief window of opportunity available to protect the scenic, wildlife and recreational resources of the Galisteo Basin, a comprehensive, strategic and collaborative approach to watershed conservation is required. This is a critical moment: one that will challenge our staff, board and partners to elevate their practice and deepen the impact of their work.
4. Where can people find out more about your work, how to support it, and get involved?
People can learn more about Commonweal’s work by visiting www.galisteobasinpreserve.com. Donors and community members can join Commonweal’s list serve at https://www.galisteobasinpreserve.com/contact to stay apprised of events and workshop opportunities. As a small nonprofit, we rely heavily on contributions from individual donors and family charitable funds. To support our work go to https://www.galisteobasinpreserve.com/contribute. Or call us at 505.982.0071ext. 1 for more information.