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South Valley Open Space is Similar to a National Park
A South Valley community stopped 570 acres of land from becoming a sewage site in the 90s by initiating the first urban wildlife refuge in the Southwest.
When the owner of a dairy farm was looking to sell their land, a waste treatment facility planned to expand their site onto the property.
Residents of the Mountain View neighborhood protested, wrote letters, and went to public meetings, and the property owner decided to listen to what the neighborhood wanted.
Through community effort the land eventually came under protection of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.
The USFWS began buying areas of the land in 2012. By 2014, the USFWS bought 570 acres of land and water rights at $18.5 million, with 50 percent of that amount from federal funds.
The other half of the money came from community fundraising. The Mountain View neighborhood named the national wildlife refuge, Valle de Oro.
“Valle de Oro is a victory because the property could have been developed for industrial use,” said Juan Lopez, president of the Mountain View Neighborhood Association.
The refuge’s visitor center will have information on the history of Mountain View, Lopez said. “The refuge will let those outside of the community know about the conditions that we deal with on a daily basis,” he said. Valle de Oro is the only community open space in the area and there are no parks in the neighborhood.
Valle de Oro is similar to a national park and more formal than a city park. As a national wildlife refuge and federal facility, the refuge has its own law enforcement to secure the facility. The main purpose of the refuge is to preserve and protect the wildlife of the area.
“We are building the refuge for the people of Albuquerque, but it will also be a great place for visitors who come to our city,” Refuge Manager Jennifer Owen-White said.
Wildlife refuges tend to attract people from all over the world. One example is the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge’s Festival of the Cranes in Socorro, New Mexico, which attracts thousands of visitors every year.
Valle de Oro is 5 miles south of Albuquerque on Second Street. Although there are more than 565 national wildlife refuges across the country, most are located in rural areas.
It is also unique for being built in close collaboration with the community. One community project involved 20 high school and college students building a fence designed by Ace Leadership High School students around the boundary of the refuge.
Executive Director of Friends of Valle de Oro, Aryn Lebrake, said the design plan for Valle de Oro is to restore the area back to its historical landscape. She said the Rio Grande River used to flood, allowing migratory birds to gather at the site. As part of the restoration plan, areas of the land will be excavated to allow water to settle. These wetlands will also help filter runoff water before it enters the Rio Grande.
Lebrake said the Friends of Valle de Oro is debuting an interactive phone app for the refuge at the site March 25. The app features a bilingual guided tour and a trivia game.
“It’s so people can still hang out with their phones because that’s comfortable, but they can also engage in nature and learn about wildlife in the area,” Lebrake said.
Valle de Oro is open to visitors every day from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and it’s free to get in.