Frontera land Alliance along with Franklin Mountains Wilderness Coalition has been working collaboratively with Fort Bliss to propose an option for the 7,000 plus acres locally known as Castner Range. The goals of the two groups are to preserve the natural areas, wildlife corridors and natural springs that occur on Castner Range, Fort Bliss.
To date a Conservance Report has been completed with grant funding awarded by OEA in the amount of $300,000. With the remaining grant funds we are also completing a Land Use Plan to aid the Department of Defense on the type of limited development that would occur if the land were to be transferred to the Texas Parks Department.
You may view the Conservance Report and the land use plan at http://fronteralandalliance.org/castner/.
To help you have a better understanding for the purpose of the land use plan, please see the executive summary and a few examples of how the land might be used. Please note the following report is not endorsed by Fort Bliss, we have provided the report as an option for them to consider as they go through their evaluation of the land and the future use of the land.
Executive Summary: The Frontera Land Alliance (TFLA), the Franklin Mountains Wilderness Coalition (FMWC), the Castner Conservation Conveyance Committee (4C’s) and the Franklin Mountains State Park (FMSP) of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) will continue to work with the Department of Defense (DOD) to transfer Castner Range to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) for incorporation into the FMSP. As part of the 2013 Defense Appropriations Act, Congress indicated that Castner Range may be transferred to TPWD. The El Paso community and visitors to the FMSP will benefit greatly from the addition. Currently there are over 40,000 registered visitors to the park annually, approximately 10,000 military personnel use the park for training purposes every year, and between 5,000 to 10,000 non-registered individuals visit the park each year. FMSP is the largest urban state park in the continental United States. It is estimated that there will be a 10 to 20 percent increase in users if Castner Range is transferred to TPWD. The following Castner Range Land Use Plan lays out two alternatives and alternative two has three major phases:
- Castner Range could be established as a State Natural Area (SNA) and/or Wildlife Management Area (WMA). SNA protects outstanding examples of native landscape of natural communities, significant geological formations and archeological sites. WMA designation is used to conserve wildlife. Both SNA and WMA are the least costly options for management, and would be closed to the public.
- Phase 1: Castner Range to be studied, monitored, and managed for three to five years. It is the intent of the FMSP to conserve and provide a unique outdoor experience for all generations to come.
- Phase 2: Based on the findings in Phase 1, trails will be built for hiking/biking and trail signage and maps will be installed in predetermined locations.
- Phase 3: The area south of Transmountain Road will have only hike/bike trails and signage. The area north of Transmountain Road will have hike/bike trails with trail heads, picnic sites, rock climbing at designated areas, primitive roads, backcountry remote campsites, an interior road for primitive camping, RV access, and an RV campsite with amenities such as electricity. The TPWD favors locating a visitors’ center and state park headquarters either on the existing El Paso Museum of Archaeology property or on adjacent Castner Range land.
The addition of Castner Range to the FMSP will address many needs beyond the park and recreation for the community, including benefits to public health, education, natural resource management, the community’s economy and the preservation of breathtaking viewsheds that define NE El Paso. The area has been preserved in its pristine natural state due to the stewardship of Fort Bliss. The conservation of Castner Range will preserve the fragile lands at the urban fringe around the FMSP. The preservation of additional lands will provide a network of natural areas that will preserve the community’s unique character and sense of place. This project will result in substantial benefits at many levels—locally by strengthening residents’ land ethics, and regionally for habitat protection and for water conservation and erosion control.
As Fort Bliss’s remediation investigation takes place on Castner Range, it might be determined that the best way to transfer the Castner Range to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is by taking a “from-the-top-down” approach, i.e., a piecemeal tactic that conserves parts of the Range at a time. While sections of Castner Range are being cleaned up and transferred, the remainder of Castner Range would have been placed under a Lease in Furtherance of Conveyance to ensure that all 7,081 acres of Castner Range are protected in perpetuity. The end result will be that all of Castner Range is transferred to TPWD. For example if Whispering Springs were to be cleared of UXOs and transferred to TPWD, this action would connect to an existing trail on FMSP property and allow the public access to Castner Range on a restricted trail. As tracts of land within Castner Range are identified as safe and transferable, TPWD would develop trails which are specific to that area.
As Fort Bliss completes its remediation investigation and feasibility study, on Castner Range, it might be determined that the best use for Castner Range is to keep the land as is, status quo. The ownership of the land would remain with DoD, Fort Bliss. As owners of the land Fort Bliss would continue to monitor trespassers, maintain the fences, replace signage as needed, etc. The public would directly benefit by enjoying the views of Castner Range, and no disturbance would come to the existing wildlife corridors, the natural springs or wildlife habitat.