Wildlife trail or commercial development for Rotary Park?

by Haruhuani Spruce | May 31, 2021
5 min read
"Lovely peace and quiet": present-day Rotary Park in Truth or Consequences near the temporary dam site Source: Sierra County NM Trails

While locals have been visualizing an extension of the Healing Waters Trail and wetlands restoration for Rotary Park, according to a recent article in the Sun, Truth or Consequences city officials have been drafting a competing plan to encourage commercial development in this little riverfront oasis. Their “Riverwalk” plan is a ghastly insult to our historic hot springs neighborhood, to downtown businesses and surrounding neighborhoods—to everyone who loves the current quality of life that we have now in T or C.

Like many of us, I came to T or C, almost 20 years ago, because I was drawn by the power of the gigantic hot springs here. In my world, the hot springs and its guardian mountain, Turtleback, are living entities that can heal. This desert bowl enshrining the land between these two great entities has remained open—in the face of careless development in so many other beautiful places—due to its great power.  Some call the space between the springs and the mountain a “vortex.” I would not have come up with that term myself, but I feel it is appropriate.

Ancient peoples revered this land for uncountable time. Almost as soon as white people arrived they began desecrating this sacred place.  They drained the marsh where, it is said, seven hot springs once emerged, guarded by the native peoples. White people then built bordellos and gambling houses on top of their landfill, leaving only a small remnant wetland at the edge near the river.

Even with such disrespect, this area that is now called Truth or Consequences has maintained a powerful presence in the minds of those who live here and who come here for healing. We have for decades been known as a place where many who are tired of the crass indifference of the larger society can find refuge and acceptance. Our idiosyncratic character is our strength.

The remnant marsh still hosts many species of plants and animals, and helps to maintain the integrity of the river biome.

Nestled along the banks of our part of the Rio Grande, the open land here has become a major stopping point for many species of migrating birds and home to many species of wildlife who, like the people who come here, find refuge, a place where they can thrive, even as this crowded world encroaches more and more upon the traditional web of nature that sustains all living things on our planet.

Conceptual drawing of wetland restoration of Rotary Park
Unrealized concept for a wetland restoration project at Rotary Park

Truth or Consequences is well named. Though the pressure for development is unceasing, T or C remains uniquely itself. Some have called the phenomenon the “Apache curse,” revenge for desecrating the springs in the first place. Whatever the reason, I have seen one organization after another arrive here with big plans for development that somehow never materialized. Truth. This place is sacred. Some of us can see this. The power of this place is such that only the things that are supposed to be here are the things that happen.

As the larger world becomes more chaotic, we in T or C are currently seeing a large influx of new, intelligent, creative people who love the affordable, relaxed and quiet place they find here. There will be more new arrivals.

I would guess that most T or C residents do not want more lights, noise and traffic. We do want our existing businesses to thrive as they form the basis for our lively community. We would like to see the many empty storefronts here filled with interesting, locally owned businesses. We will welcome tourists who come to experience the beauty that we have to offer.

There are some sound economic reasons for going with the nature preserve/trails idea proposed by the “Turtleback Trails” project, a citizen-led planning effort to improve recreational access to the riverfront. T or C has a growing national reputation for being the funky, quirky little town that it is, for the non-corporate artists, restaurants, people and wall-artful buildings here. A nature preserve including the wetlands and the land across the river, plus the hot springs, plus the great inns and good restaurants and brewery here (all much better than Socorro)—not to mention the many wonderful healers and massage therapists—make for a great travel destination/tour. People could visit the Bosque Del Apache’s fabulous cranes preserve, then head down to T or C for the lake, the hikes, the lovely peace and quiet and all that we have here, not to mention side trips to likewise quaint and beautiful Monticello, Hillsboro, Kingston and other stops on the way to the majestic Black Range.

I can even imagine walking tours at night from the motels down to the river to view the amazing starry skies that we enjoy here. This tourist boost would preserve the unique flavor of T or C that is the reason so many of us love this place, while giving a much-needed boost to our local small businesses. I think it would attract new businesses as well—small, unique businesses instead of the one-size-fits-all mass-produced outlets that can be found anywhere else.

Please, let us come together to prevent one more desecration. Please let us create, instead, a preserve for wildlife with access for people to the Rio Grande that will stand into the future to preserve the precious, irreplaceable quality of life that we are able to enjoy here.


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Understanding New Mexico's proposed new social studies standards for K-12 students

“The primary purpose of social studies is to help young people develop the ability to make informed and reasoned decisions for the public good as citizens of a culturally diverse, democratic society in an interdependent world.”
—National Council for the Social Studies 

Reader Michael L. Hayes of Las Cruces commented: What impresses me is that both the proposed standards and some of the criticisms of them are equally grotesque. I make this bold statement on the basis of my experience as a peripatetic high school and college English teacher for 45 years in many states with many students differing in race, religion, gender and socioeconomic background, and as a civic activist (PTA) in public education (My career, however, was as an independent consultant mainly in defense, energy and the environment.)

The proposed social studies standards are conceptually and instructionally flawed. For starters, a “performance standard” is not a standard at all; it is a task. Asking someone to explain something is not unlike asking someone to water the lawn. Nothing measures the performance, but without a measure, there is no standard. The teacher’s subjective judgment will be all that matters, and almost anything will count as satisfying a “performance standard,” even just trying. Students will be left to wonder “what is on the teacher’s mind?” or “have I sucked up enough.”

Four other quick criticisms of the performance standards. One, they are nearly unintelligible because they are written in jargon. PED’s use of jargon in a document intended for the public is worrisome. Bureaucrats often use jargon to confuse or conceal something uninformed, wrong or unworthy. As a result, most parents, some school board members and more than a few teachers do not understand them.

Two, the performance standards are so vague that they fail to define the education which teachers are supposed to teach, students are supposed to learn, and parents are supposed to understand. PED does not define words like “explain” or “describe” so that teachers can apply “standards” consistently and fairly. The standards do not indicate what teachers are supposed to know in order to teach or specify what students are supposed to learn. Supervisors cannot know whether teachers are teaching social studies well or poorly. The standards are so vague that the public, especially parents or guardians, cannot know the content of public education.

Three, many performance standards are simply unrealistic, especially at grade level. Under “Ethnic, Cultural and Identity Performance Standards”; then under “Diversity and Identity”; then under “Kindergarten,” one such standard is: “Identify how their family does things both the same as and different from how other people do things.” Do six-year-olds know how other people do things? Do they know whether these things are relevant to diversity and identity? Or another standard: “Describe their family history, culture, and past to current contributions of people in their main identity groups.” (A proficient writer would have hyphenated the compound adjective to avoid confusing the reader.) Do six-year-olds know so much about these things in relation to their “identity group”? Since teachers obviously do not teach them about these other people and have not taught them about these groups, why are these and similar items in the curriculum; or do teachers assign them to go home and collect this information?

Point four follows from “three”; some information relevant to some performance measures requires a disclosure of personal or family matters. The younger the students, the easier it is for teachers to invade their privacy and not only their privacy, but also the privacy of their parents or guardians, or neighbors, who may never be aware of these disclosures or not become aware of them until afterward. PED has no right to design a curriculum which requires teachers to ask students for information about themselves, parents or guardians, or neighbors, or puts teachers on the spot if the disclosures reveal criminal conduct. (Bill says Jeff’s father plays games in bed with his daughter. Lila says Angelo’s mother gives herself shots in the arm.) Since teacher-student communications have no legal protection to ensure privacy, those disclosures may become public accidentally or deliberately. The effect of these proposal standards is to turn New Mexico schools and teachers into investigative agents of the state and students into little informants or spies.

This PED proposal for social studies standards is a travesty of education despite its appeals to purportedly enlightened principles. It constitutes a clear and present danger to individual liberty and civil liberties. It should be repudiated; its development, investigated; its PED perpetrators, dismissed. No state curriculum should encourage or require the disclosure of private personal information.

I am equally outraged by the comments of some of T or C’s school board members: Christine LaFont and Julianne Stroup, two white Christian women, who belong to one of the larger minorities in America and assume white and Christian privileges. In different terms but for essentially the same reason, both oppose an education which includes lessons about historical events and trends, and social movements and developments, of other minorities. They object to the proposal for the new social studies standards because of its emphasis on individual and group identities not white or Christian. I am not going to reply with specific objections; they are too numerous and too pointed.

Ms. LaFont urges: “It’s better to address what’s similar with all Americans. It’s not good to differentiate.” Ms. Stroup adds: “Our country is not a racist country. We have to teach to respect each other. We have civil rights laws that protect everyone from discrimination. We need to teach civics, love and respect. We need to teach how to be color blind.”

Their desires for unity and homogeneity, and for mutual respect, are a contradiction and an impossibility. Aside from a shared citizenship, which implies acceptance of the Constitution, the rule of law and equality under the law, little else defines Americans. We are additionally defined by our race, religion, national origin, etc. So mutual respect requires individuals to respect others different from themselves. Disrespect desires blacks, Jews or Palestinians to assimilate or to suppress or conceal racial, religious or national origin aspects of their identity. The only people who want erasure of nonwhite, non-Christian, non-American origin aspects of identity are bigots. Ms. LaFont and Ms. Stroud want standards which, by stressing similarities and eliding differences, desire the erasure of such aspects. What they want will result in a social studies curriculum that enables white, Christian, native-born children to grow up to be bigots and all others to be their victims. This would be the academic equivalent of ethnic cleansing.


This postmortem of a case involving a 75-year-old women who went missing from her home in Hillsboro last September sheds light on the bounds of law enforcement’s capacity to respond, especially in large rural jurisdictions such as Sierra County, and underscores the critical role the public, as well as concerned family and friends, can play in assisting a missing person’s search.

Reader Jane Debrott of Hillsboro commented: Thank you for your article on the tragic loss of Betsey. I am a resident of Hillsboro, a friend of Rick and Betsey, and a member of H.E.L.P. The thing that most distresses me now, is the emphasis on Rick’s mis-naming of the color of their car. I fear that this fact will cause Rick to feel that if he had only gotten the facts right, Betsey may have been rescued before it was too late. The incident was a series of unavoidable events, out of everyone’s control, and we will never know what place the correct color of her car may have had in the outcome. It breaks my heart to think that Rick has had one more thing added to his “what ifs” concerning this incident.

Diana Tittle responded: Dear Jane, the Sun undertook this investigation at the request of a Hillsboro resident concerned about the town’s inability to mount a prompt, coordinated response to the disappearance of a neighbor. From the beginning, I shared your concern about how our findings might affect Betsy’s family and friends. After I completed my research and began writing, I weighed each detail I eventually chose to include against my desire to cause no pain and the public’s right to know about the strengths and limitations of law enforcement’s response and the public’s need to know about how to be of meaningful assistance.

There was information I withheld about the state police investigation and the recovery. But I decided to include the issue of the car’s color because the individuals who spotted Betsy’s car emphasized how its color had been key to their identification of it as the vehicle described in Betsy’s Silver Alert. Because the misinformation was corrected within a couple of hours, I also included in this story the following editorial comment meant to put the error in perspective: “The fact that law enforcement throughout the state was on the lookout in the crucial early hours after Betsy’s disappearance for an elderly woman driving a “light blue” instead of a “silver” Accord would, in retrospect, likely not have changed the outcome of the search” [emphasis added].

I would also point to the story’s overarching conclusion about the inadvisability of assigning blame for what happened: “In this case, a perfect storm of unfortunate circumstances, many of them beyond human control, hindered the search that it would fall to Hamilton’s department to lead.”

It is my hope that any pain caused by my reporting will eventually be outweighed by its contribution to a better community understanding of what it will take in the future to mount a successful missing person’s search in rural Sierra County.

4 thoughts on “Wildlife trail or commercial development for Rotary Park?”

  1. Residing in the neighborhood between downtown and Rotary Park, I would not like to see commercial development at Rotary Park. There would be traffic in our residential streets. And the run-off from pavement and/or construction into the river seems environmentally unsound. I have no idea what sort of commercial development is proposed, but I can’t imagine it getting past an environmental impact study—which there ought to be, of course, for anything that goes in that location. I agree with Dr. Spruce. Wetlands restoration and a hiking trail. Investment in projects that make this town more its true self, not something it isn’t, will help us thrive.

    1. I no longer live in T or C but I would hate for the hot springs area to be changed. The wetlands restoration would be great.

  2. I totally agree. We must avoid the trap of turning this amazing place into a Disneyland of entrepreneurship. Yes, there is a place for folks who have art and craft and food for sale, but that place is not in the middle of the natural wonder that is this remarkable bend in the “Great River.” The hot springs are wondrous, but let’s not overshadow the riverine valley that the springs help create. It is also a place where migrating birds refuel on their annual migrations both directions.

    If we cover those wetlands with hot dog stands and trinket sellers, we’ll become like every other tourist trap. No one will want to go out of their way (and we are truly “out of the way” for just about anyone going anywhere!) to buy trinkets and souvenirs. We have all these distinctive natural features that are truly something worthy of experiencing—let’s nurture them and make them accessible. People will come and after they’ve seen and experienced them. Then they’ll come back into town to buy your stuff and stay in your hotels.

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