The CCC opened the Sandias to more recreational use- not just through the construction of picnic grounds, but also roads and trails, and in 1936 they cleared land for the first primitive ski area at the Tree Springs trailhead. Others soon saw the recreation opportunity of mountains so close to Albuquerque. The forties saw the return of one of the most popular species of wildlife at the center: the Abert Squirrel. It disappeared around the turn of the century, and was re-introduced from other New Mexico mountains in 1940 by Homer Pickens, former Director of the New Mexico Game and Fish Department. Around this same time, 1939-1940, Rocky Mountain Big Horn Sheep were reintroduced to the Sandias; they flourished through the 1960s but their numbers declined after that, and the last Rocky Mountain Bighorn was sighted in 1992.
John Milne, long time Superintendent of the Albuquerque Public Schools, foresaw the growth of Albuquerque and acquired property for future schools all over the county. In 1950, his attention turned to the east mountains, specifically the center property, searching for a recreation area for Albuquerque school children. The outdoor recreation plan included the opening in 1954 of an APS summer camp in the Jemez Mountains near Fenton Lake, eventually known as Camp Gallagher, and a west slope site in the foothills that was never realized.
The Center property was appraised in February of 1950 for the Albuquerque Public School Board. It indicated that the 138 acre property was best suited for grazing, had no water or structures and set its value at $5.00 per acre. In 1951, all livestock was removed from National Forest land, which officially ended grazing of any kind on the federal land near the center.
Two years later, the property was purchased outright by APS on March 11, 1953 (Patent for State Land No. 2287). At that point the land had no roads, power or water. On April 2, 1959, Bernalillo County built a road to the property. An easement for electric and telephone line to cross the property was granted in 1963. In 1966, a land swap with George and Gene Hinkle consolidated the property into its present shape.
In 1966, John Cox, a physical education teacher at Grant Junior High, obtained a federal grant of $46,000 to create an outdoor education program for students. Granted under authority of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Title III, the grant was to fund “Projects for Advancement of Creativity on Education.” Cox, a summer Park Service ranger in the Grand Canyon, was in charge of the grant and development of the site; he originally envisioned the center as a residential overnight facility in which classes would spend a full week. He applied for a well permit and began doing tours in a limited way on the property in the fall of 1966, but it quickly became apparent that more instructors were needed.
John Cox 1967
Jack Meloy, a science teacher at Jefferson Junior High, was hired in the spring of 1967. On April 27, 1967, the first full day tours of the “Outdoor Education Center” by school children began. At that time the site included “just nature and two chemical toilets” according to Cox. During the summer of 1967, with the help of the Neighborhood Youth Corp, trails were built and picnic tables assembled. By the fall of 1967 a third instructor, Vera Snyder, had joined the program. By an odd coincidence, Miss Snyder, also an APS teacher, had taken a summer class to the property prior to 1966. Miss Snyder, based on her experience in field anthropology, noticed several Indian ruins in the area, including the one near Mud Springs and two others in the meadows on the property. She recognized the meadow sites, little more than disturbed earth and scattered pot shards, as ruins. She sometimes included an archaeological segment in the tours she conducted, in which the children would practice finding shards and arrow heads on the ruin sites. One of the ruins was included on an old map near the stock pond.
The fall of 1967 also saw the drilling of a water well. In those early days the center instructors visited each classroom the week before the scheduled tour and presented a slide show consisting of photos taken at the center, based on a theme, like geology, weather, or plants. During the tour, the same topics would be covered. Some parents, especially those who lived far from the mountains, were afraid to allow their children to visit, so the center instructors attended PTA meetings to assure the families it would be safe and would sometime meet the students at the school and ride the bus to the site with the class for reassurance. The instructors provided tours to all grade levels before settling on sixth grade, which was the terminal grade in elementary schools at the time. Private parochial schools also sent classes for tours. Tours were conducted during the entire school year; sometimes the county plowed snow off the road so the school buses could reach the site. If they couldn't, the classes were taken to La Cueva Canyon on the west side of the Sandias and the tours were conducted there. Snow shoes were purchased for the children so tours could be done in the snow.
Within the first full school year of operation (1967-1968), some 8,000 students visited the Center; In addition, the site was improved: four World War II barracks and a small residence were trucked in from Kirtland Air Force base. The two barracks on the northwest side were converted into Natural History and Ecology Museums; while the two on the south side became classrooms and bathrooms. The residence building became the caretaker’s cottage (known as the casita), in which John Cox’s mother lived for many years.
Jack Meloy and Vera Snyder left the program in the spring of 1968: two new teachers, Karin Swelling and Tom Parker took their places. On August 13, 1971, the center, by then known as the Environmental Education Lab, was designated a National Environmental Education Landmark by the National Park Service. This was based on its pioneering use of the National Environmental Education Development approach in its curriculum, which emphasized the teaching of “the relationship between man and his environment.”
In 1973, a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency funded a program in which high school students, led by University of New Mexico students, worked on trails and assisted educators on tours one day a week. Sunday open houses were held to encourage the public to visit the site. The Jemez camp continued as an integral part of the education plan. In 1975, for example, 600 Albuquerque elementary students attended the week- long camp at a cost of $16 per student.
By 1984, a wildlife survey conducted by students found that the turkey population on the center grounds was shrinking; soon they would disappear completely. In 1990, the tall ponderosa tree near Paradise Springs died and became “the snag”; it had been struck by lightning some 30 years earlier.
In the spring of 1991, facing an impending budget crisis, the Albuquerque Public School Board proposed eliminating the Sandia Mountain Environmental Education Center (as it was called then) and slashed its budget. 7600 students had been to the center the year before; after the cuts, tours were all but eliminated. John Cox having just retired, the then acting Director, Gwen Ebert, was given a year to find alternative funding or close the center. Beth Dillingham soon joined the center and the search for funding. Gwen Ebert soon left the program while Dillingham continued to look for alternatives.
A chance encounter with then Governor Bruce King led to a meeting with State Representative Gary King who championed the cause and enlisted the aid of Ray Powell. Ultimately a plan was adopted under which the state would provide funds to the New Mexico Museum of Natural History, which would help operate the center. APS would retain ownership of the center but the museum would provide operational funds and become a partner in the enterprise. In addition, the mission of the program would be extended to children statewide. A joint powers agreement to that effect was signed on August 10, 1993 and the center, first named the Natural Resources Education Center, and then renamed the Natural Resources and Wildlife Education Center, was reopened in the fall of that year. Beth Dillingham became Director; she had participated in a tour at the center as a grade school student some 20 years before.
Also in 1993, a statewide explosion in the population of deer mice was linked to the hanta virus. Workers in anti-exposure suits were called in to clear all the center buildings of material which could harbor the mice, which essentially stripped the buildings of all materials, including a large number of photos taken over the years. Within two years the center would again be renamed, this time as the Sandia Mountain Natural History Center.
As classes from nearby communities began to use the facility, the number of students participating in the program gradually returned to the pre-budget crisis levels The Center educators began visiting cities throughout New Mexico to bring their Ecology Field Program to students outside of Albuquerque. In 1996-97, the traveling program educated 800 students in a number of widely spread New Mexico communities including Cibola, Cobre, Jemez Valley, Las Vegas, Magdalena, Pecos, Santa Rosa, Silver City, Socorro, Truth or Consequences, and Vaughn.In early 1995, the Center once again faced the threat of budget cuts because the new Governor, Gary Johnson, believed the center did not serve enough children outside of Bernalillo County. In response, the legislature funded a dormitory building so children from around the state could spend the night after travelling. The new building was located on the site of an old storage building, which had been torn down earlier in 1996 when asbestos was discovered during repairs. By the end of 1996 Dillingham had left the center and the new building’s purpose had been changed from dormitory to staff center. It was constructed during the summer of 1997, but problems with the septic system delayed use of the building for several years. Flooding was a problem until landscaping around the structure was completed.
In 1998, the Center received the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Regional Administrator’s Environmental Excellence Award for Environmental Education. The Award was based on the work of center instructors Julie Hall, Mary Dwyer, Helen Haskell, Kristin Gunckel and Jonathan Conrad.
Beginning in 1999, a wheelchair accessible trail was added and then lengthened, with sections being added each year until 2004.
In 2002, Southwick trail was constructed; named after John Southwick, longtime neighbor and supporter of the center. When he died, in 1997, his ashes had been scattered on his favorite place, the viewpoint atop the BVB trail. Southwick trail was built nearby and in 2004, a plaque was placed on the hill top in his honor. In the fall of 2002 a tipi was constructed for use during tours, (lodge poles from the tipi can still be found near the headquarters building).
Also in 2004, Helen Haskell left and Paul Mauermann, an educator at the center since 2000, became the Manager. In the summer of 2004, the center was opened to the public for single day events, like “Adventure Day” and “Lunar Lunacy Night.” With financial assistance from EMNRD and PNM, a solar panel installation was erected in 2004. That year, new trails were added to allow more school class groups to use the center on a given day. Rocky Ridge (originally called Sloth Circle) was added, as were Leopold Loop, and Abbey Alley. On October 3rd of 2004, the headquarters building was christened the “Paul Stubbe Center for Environmental Education”, in honor of long time volunteer, Paul Stubbe. On that same day, the gardens adjacent to the building were dedicated as the “Daniel Bush Gardens”, after another stalwart volunteer and trail builder. He added Southwick, Leopold Loop, Abbey Alley, Dove, and Deer trails to the Center, and improved many other trails.
New programs were added such as a two day Wilderness First Aid training for educators and staff held at the Center in July 2007. Also that year, 10,000 square feet of piñon-juniper forest were thinned.
On July 1, 2008, a Forest Health Initiative was started with the assistance of the Ciudad Soil and Water Conservation District and the N.M. State Forestry Division; eighty acres of the property’s trees were thinned. The Forest Health Initiative’s goal was to return the forest to a more natural, healthy state. In 2012, the U.S. Forest Service followed suit by thinning adjacent sections of the forest.
2008 saw the initiation of an Ecology Research and Monitoring Program in which two sites, each 50 by 100 feet, were intensely studied. Work on the sites was carried out by students from East Mountain High School and APS’ School on Wheels. Students from an East Mountain High School biology class also installed game cameras at Mud and Paradise Springs to record wildlife activity. A ringtail was photographed that year on one of the game cameras; the first confirmation that the species visited the Center area.
In the winter of 2010, a dendrochronology project began in which core samples were taken from 100 trees around the center property to determine the age of the trees. In summer 2011, a shade structure/bird blind was built in the meadow which included a water hole fed by a rain water collector.
With funding from Sandia National Labs and the Albert I. Pierce Foundation, a new program based on the Project-Based Learning concept started in the 2011-2012 school year. During the summer, ten mid-school teachers were trained in the concept, in which students develop and investigate questions, meet with experts and conduct their own experiments. The results of the experiments must then be presented in a public forum. That fall students from Madison, Desert Ridge, and Jimmy Carter Mid-schools came to the center to conduct experiments they had designed to address questions in air and water quality, scatology and forest health. In that first year, 1665 students participated in the program.
In 2012-2013 numerous projects were continued or initiated:
· The Project Based-Learning Program expanded to include more teachers and more students from Madison, Desert Ridge, Jimmy Carter, Van Buren, and Truman Mid-schools; 17 teachers and 2675 students participated
· The S.M.N.H.C. Pocket Naturalist Guide was published
· The Bernalillo County Master Naturalist Program conducted training at the Center.
· BioBlitz, a one day citizen science inventory of species, moved from the Rio Grande Nature Center to the Sandia Mountain Natural History Center in August 2012; 200 people attended.
· New Mexico Game and Fish provided a grant to begin a Nature Mapping Project in which Center educators collect and share wildlife information gathered throughout the state on the iNaturalist website.
· Two new trails, Dove Trail and Deer Trail were constructed and put into use
· The two northern barrack buildings fell into disrepair and were torn down.
· A Bear Monitoring Project was initiated in partnership with N.M. Game and Fish. Two bears were trapped and tracked with transmitting collars
· BioBlitz was hosted again at the SMNHC in May of 2013; 187 species were identified in the 24 hour event.
· As part of the Hondo Fuel reduction Project, the Forest Service conducted a prescribed burn just above Leopold Loop, on March 13, 2013. The Center staff installed time lapse cameras to record the recovery and re-growth of the area, which will be used in educational programs.
· Paul Mauermann attended the launch of the latest Landsat satellite in California on February 10, 2013, as a representative of the Center, which has been chosen to participate in NASA’s Adopt a Pixel Program. The Center staff will methodically photograph specific locations which will be analyzed for accuracy and changes over time with the Landsat images. In a parallel program, students will conduct surveys of forest cover at designated locations on the Center for comparison with Landsat satellite images now available on a new University of Maryland website, Global Forest Change.
During the 2013-2014 year the Center’s participated in numerous projects, both new and old.
Along with numerous government and private agencies, the Center again participated in the Collaborative Forest Restoration Project:
· February 10, 2014- the Forest Service conducted another prescribed burn; this time just above Paradise Spring and along parts of the Rocky Ridge and Bushwhack trails.
· March, 2014- Krista Bonfantine, of Arid Land Innovations, trained the Center staff and volunteers in the techniques used in forest health monitoring; some elements of the techniques will be woven into the educational program for students attending the Center.
· March 25, 2014- another prescribed burn near Mud Spring.
· On April 26, 2014- the Center hosted a hands on workshop taught by Professor Ellis Margolis, from the University of Arizona Tree Ring Lab--Dendrochronology-Collaborative Forest Restoration Project.
· June 13, 2014-the Center hosted a public hike on Fire Ecology, Tree Thinning, and Forest Health
Staff played a major role in the ongoing bear research in the Sandias:
· Bear Blitz, a pilot program to collect and analyze bear scat to determine the number and distribution of bears in the Sandias: during the week of October 7, 2013, numerous bear scat samples were collected at the Center and analyzed for DNA by Professor Jerry Dragoo of the U.N.M. Biology Department. The samples proved to be too old and degraded to be of use.
· For six weeks in the summer of 2014, Center staff participated, along with numerous other agencies, in the Sandia Mountain Bear Collaborative (SMBC), which collected bear hair on barbed wire snares set in 12 sites around the Sandias. 187 samples were collected and will be subjected to DNA analysis to estimate the number of bears in the area.
· In the Fall of 2013, an intact bear carcass was discovered near Mud Springs. Dave Weaver, a former Professor with the Departments of Medicine and Anthroplogy of Wake Forest University, and Marty Peterson, both Center volunteers, stripped the carcass and reassembled the bear skeleton. The completed skeleton should be ready for use as an educational exhibit by the fall of 2014.
Several facility improvements were completed:
· During the summer of 2013, a new bird blind was constructed south of the Stubbe Center.
· A new interpretive trail east of the parking lot was completed in the summer of 2014; it has informational signs and a shade structure.
· An extensive remodel of the Visitor’s Center was accomplished with the help of the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish and the New Mexico Museum of Natural History. New exhibits and improved audio visual equipment were part of the remodel.
· A new septic system was installed.
The Center welcomed several new staff members:
· Steven Henley, a former science teacher at Tierra Antigua Elementary School. Steven aligned the standards and benchmarks for all Center activities and posted them on the Center website for use by teachers
· Tobias Archuleta, in charge of maintaining the facility
· Elizabeth Segura, who handles scheduling and other clerical duties
Other notable events:
· October 13, 2013, the Center hosted members of the Association of Science and Technology Centers Annual Conference
· The Project Based Learning program continued during the school year with three schools: Desert Ridge High School, Van Buren Mid School; and Truman Mid School. All totaled, 49 teachers and over 2500 students participated.
· The Weyerhaeuser Foundation committed to provide an $8,000 grant to support basic functions of the Center.
· The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish provided $14,000 to help fund the Nature Mapping Project and educational outreach.
· The Collaborative Forest Restoration Project provided $4200 to help fund forest health education through the Center.
A major redesign of the entire facility, in which the old barracks would be razed and new buildings erected is in the planning stages; the project will be financed by $2.5 million from a 2010 school bond. The new facility would permit an increase in professional training opportunities for APS teachers in ecology and related sciences and an expanded community outreach. The vision is of a Center with the capability to provide educational opportunities to a wider range of individuals, including students at all grade levels, citizens and scientists; leading ultimately to an ecologically literate citizenry.
YEARLY PARTICIPANTS: 1994 to 2013
Archibald, R., Canon de Carnue: Settlement of a Grant, 51 New Mexico Historical Review 313, October 1976.
Atkins, Nancy, Archeological Investigations of San Antonio de Padua, LA 24, Bernalillo County, Museum of New Mexico Laboratory of Anthropology, 2004.
Baker, Robert, Timeless Heritage: A History of the Forest Service in the Southwest, USDA Forest Service, 1998
Bernalillo County, East Mountain Area Plan, 1992- Special Collections-Albuquerque/ Bernalillo County Library
Byszewski, Berenika, A Cultural Resources Inventory Survey for the San Antonio de las Huertas Collaborative Forest Restoration Program in Sandoval County, New Mexico, New Mexico Sate Archeological Survey Permit Number NM-12-121-S, July 2013.
Dart, Al, ed., Archeological Investigations of San Antonio de Padua, LA 24, Bernalillo County, Museum of New Mexico Laboratory of Anthropology, 1980.
Julyan, Robert & Stuever, Mary, Ed., Field Guide to the Sandia Mountains, University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, NM, 2005.
Luna, Jackie; History of the San Miguel De Laredo-Carnuel Land Grant of 1763, http://home.earthlink.net/Carnuel/ hist1973.html
Ellis Q. Margolis, Jeff Balmat, Fire History and Fire–climate Relationships Along a Fire Regime Gradient in the Santa Fe Municipal Watershed, NM, USA, Forest Ecology and Management 258 (2009) 2416–2430
Ellis Q. Margolis, Thomas W. Swetnam, and Craig D. Allen, Historical Stand-replacing Fire in Upper Montane Forests of the Madrean Sky Islands and Mogollon Plateau, Southwestern USA, Fire Ecology Volume 7, Issue 3, 2011
Metzler, Richard, Coming of Age in the Great Depression: The Civilian Conservation Corps Experience in New Mexico,1933-1942, Yucca Tree Press, Las Cruces, NM, April 2000
Mitchell, Eleanor, A Study of an Historical Trail Through Tijeras Canyon, Alb/Bern. County Planning Department, June 1978
Smith, Mike; Towns of the Sandia Mountains, Arcadia Publishers, 2006.
USDA Forest Service: Archeological Site Inventories, Cibola, No. 03, 2/1977; 8/5/1999; Nov. 2007.
I must thank a number of people who took the time to share their memories of the Center as well as photos and videos, including Vera Snyder, Jack Meloy, Marcia Southwick, Beth Dillingham, Helen Haskell, Vince Case and Paul Mauermann. I am also indebted to those who dug up old records to help me in my research: Martin Eckert, APS Director of Real Estate; Lucille Sisneros from the State Land Office, Sandra Arazi-Coambs, Sandia District Archeologist, Zachary Parsons, U.S. Forest Service Zone Wildlife Biologist, and numerous librarians who took pity on me and showed me where to find the good old stuff. Thanks to Colleen, Tish, and Vern, and all the folks at the Master Naturalist Program. Special thanks to my loving wife and editor, Sharon, and Eric, my cartographer.