Gwynne Ann Unruh is an award-winning reporter formerly of the Alamosa Valley Courier, an independent paper in southern Colorado. She covers the environment for The Paper.

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 “Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone. They paved paradise, put up a parking lot.”  

This song, by Joni Mitchell about taking things for granted and then missing them when they’re gone, is the theme of a movement to stop any form of development or structures at the Elena Gallegos Open Space (EGOS) park. Protecting the views and the serenity of the EGOS is motivating thousands of state residents to stand up and be counted. They are digging in their heels and gearing up to fight for nature, beauty, peace and quiet in this part of the Land of Enchantment. 

The Elena Gallegos Land Grant runs from the crest of the Sandia Mountains to the Rio Grande Valley and covers 70,000 acres running along the northern half of Albuquerque up to Sandia Pueblo. The 640-acre EGOS park, located within the grant, is the crown jewel of the city’s Open Space system.

Proposed Improvements & Education Center 

A feasibility study conducted during the winter of 2021-22 examined the viability of proposed improvements at Elena Gallegos Open Space, including locations for a potential Education Center. The Parks and Recreation Department determined that further public engagement and studies are required. The Department says it will not move forward with any major changes to Elena Gallegos other than general upgrades to the facility, including replacement of existing outdoor furnishing, general road repairs and improvements to the cottonwood springs wildlife blind and nature trail, to allow adequate time for public input and further site assessment. 

City Councilor Trudy Jones’ office told The Paper. that the administration “is exploring the option of building an Education Center in the Elena Gallegos since the Foothills is the only open space area that does not have one.” Aziza Chavez from Councilor Jones’s office sits on the advisory committee to the project along with representatives from Open Space Alliance, The Wilderness Society, Open Space TrailWatch and the High Desert Homeowners’ Association.

The city said they are conducting some more studies and have contracted with a consultant to do more public outreach.

Citizens Committee Says Development of EGOS is Illegal

A petition created by the “Save the Elena Gallegos” Citizens Committee aims to stop the City of Albuquerque’s plans to build a large government building (“Education Center”) in the EGOS, at either the Pino Trailhead or the Cottonwood Springs Trailhead. Such a building is expressly prohibited by the legal covenants which protect the land the park is located on. As of November 17, the petition has collected over 7,000 (and steadily climbing) signatures of individuals determined to preserve the EGOS in perpetuity as an undisturbed open space, with no buildings on it. 

For those walking, running, mountain biking along its trails or enjoying the picnic areas, EGOS offers them a chance to witness wildlife in their natural habitat along with breathtaking views of the city and beyond. Coyote and bear scat are seen along the trail, and you might spot a cougar traveling through natural drainage. As the sun goes down, the Sandia Mountains’ glorious colors erupt when the pinkish hue from the potassium feldspar crystals within the granite of the mountain reflects the sunset.

On a clear day, if you turn around with the Sandia Peak at your back, an 11,000 square-mile panoramic view awaits you. Mt. Taylor is on the west, the Jemez Mountains on the north and the vast Tijeras Arroyo can be seen to the south. The landscape supports a piñon-juniper habitat that includes Chamisa, Apache plume, scrub oak, cane cholla cactus, blue grama grass, bear grass, and soapweed yucca.

Soon to launch a crowdfunding campaign to cover legal fees, the Citizens Committee plans to move forward and file an injunction against the City for Parks and Rec’s planned development of EGOS, which they contend is prohibited.

According to the petition, the proposed educational building is expressly prohibited by the legal covenants which protect the land. The EGOS is to be preserved in perpetuity as an undisturbed open space with no buildings on it. The Purchase Agreement for the EGOS was made between the City of Albuquerque and the Albuquerque Academy in June 1982. The original restrictions in the Deed to the EGOS land are: 

“Limitations on Use of Park Property. The Park Property shall be used solely by the City as a City Park. The City will limit use of the Park Property to passive recreation uses which will include only the installation, construction, maintenance and use of picnic benches, tables, shelters, barbecue grills, drinking water facilities, associated minor recreation facilities (such as volleyball or horseshoe pitching facilities), restrooms, access roads, parking lots, hiking trails, trailheads, a trailer or other residence for a residential caretaker, and electric power facilities associated with the specified uses.” 

The Citizens Committee believes that the educational building on its own will cause very real and serious harm to the fragile ecosystem of the EGOS and to all the species of animals who call her home. Further, the petition states, the long-term consequences of breaking the covenants would establish a precedent for buildings in the Open Space, which will render the restrictions in the Deed unenforceable by an outside party and open the door for future development in the Elena Gallegos.

The petition calls on city leaders “to uphold the covenants which protect the Elena Gallegos and to preserve this beautiful, pristine, untrammeled wilderness for the children of Albuquerque and for all future generations.” 

Learn more about the movement to stop the development of EGOS at saveelenagallegos.org.