Photos and Text by Garrett VeneKlasen, Northern Conservation Director
Nestled between spires of volcanic tuff and red rock mesas, the Valley of the Spirit Ranch surrounds the Village of Jemez Springs and is now an official part of the SFNF. The property adds 2,092 acres rich in natural and cultural resources to public lands and expands public access to areas of the forest that are currently difficult to reach.
The property lies within the Jemez National Recreation Area. It consists of two parcels: One parcel on the west side of the Jemez River totaling 895 acres in size and the other parcel across the river and to the east that is 1,197 acres in size. Both parcels have legal access from NM Hwy 4.
The acquisition was made possible by the 2020 passage of the Great American Outdoors Act, which included the permanent reauthorization and full funding of the Land Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). The LWCF provides money to federal, state, and local governments to purchase land, water, and wetlands for the benefit of the American public.
As with so many public land-related initiatives, Senator Heinrich and his staff played a critical role in securing Land and Water Conservation Funding and making this acquisition a reality. Senator Lujan and Congresswoman Leger Fernandez were also very supportive of the acquisition
Sen. Heinrich was instrumental in securing the LWCF funding for the acquisition.
“The Forest Service’s acquisition of this incredible landscape near Jemez Springs adds immeasurably to one of New Mexico’s most valued places,” Sen. Martin Heinrich said. “Protecting this land ensures public access to outstanding outdoor recreation, contributes to the important tourism economy of New Mexico, and preserves cultural sites of great significance to the valley’s Tribal and Hispanic heritage. This is exactly why I led the effort to pass the Great American Outdoors Act, which included the permanent reauthorization and full funding of the Land Water Conservation Fund.”
The acquisition of the Valley of the Spirit property also received strong support from the Pueblo of Jemez and the Village of Jemez Springs.
“I thank the United States Forest Service and its work with the Land and Water Conservation Fund to purchase the Valley of the Spirit Ranch,” Pueblo of Jemez Gov. Michael Toledo, Jr., said. “This is a great opportunity for the Pueblo of Jemez to work together with the United States Forest Service to protect and conserve the natural and cultural resources in the Jemez Ancestral Homeland.”
“The Village of Jemez Springs is an island within the Valley of the Spirit Ranch. We have dreamed for a very long time that this privately owned parcel could become public land. And now it’s no longer a dream but a reality,” Jemez Springs Mayor Roger Sweet said. “The purchase of this large parcel of land will protect our village from future unwanted development, boost our economy by opening up more recreation opportunities, and preserve a stunning landscape.”
The Jemez Ranger District will be hosting community workshops and will also conduct tribal consultation to develop the vision of how the trail system can provide sustainable recreation opportunities for visitors. It is important to note that this acquisition will not foster unmanaged access or use.