Our Chance to Protect the Old Spanish Trail

Old Spanish National Historic Trail, Courtesy of NPS

Old Spanish National Historic Trail, Courtesy of NPS

HECHO recently submitted comments as part of a public input process called a Master Leasing Plan in regards to oil and gas development on about 785,000 acres of public lands near Moab, Utah. Why should you care? You are part owner of that acreage.

Dotted all over this beautiful country are public lands – places that are for and owned by the public. While some of these public lands are used for recreation and tourism, many of them are also repositories of rich, natural resources – like oil and gas. The federal government’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) allows companies to lease pieces of public lands to extract natural resources.

Master Leasing Plans (MLPs) allow input from multiple stakeholders (like you) about how public lands should be used. And MLPs allow for a variety of issues to be considered, including: hunting and angling, farming and ranching, cultural resource protection, conservation, recreation, property ownership, local government, and oil and gas development.

Making our voices heard in regards to the Moab MLP isn’t just about protecting public lands. It’s about protecting Hispanic heritage. Within the planning area is 43.2 miles of our history – the Old Spanish Trail (click here for a PDF map of the area).

Juan Palma led a hike with kids from moab on the Delicate arch trail and talked about Latino connections to the area. The old spanish trail runs through this same region, and is being considered for protection under a tool called a Master Leasing Plan (MLP).

Juan Palma led a hike with kids from moab on the Delicate arch trail and talked about Latino connections to the area. The old spanish trail runs through this same region, and is being considered for protection under a tool called a Master Leasing Plan (MLP).

The Old Spanish Trail spans 2,700 miles across six states and is known as the country’s longest, most arduous historical trail. The trail gets its name from the old Spanish colonies in northern New Mexico and southern California which were connected by this grueling passageway. On one end was the Spanish outpost of Santa Fe, NM – a colony founded 10 years before the Plymouth Colony was established by the pilgrims. On the other, the presidio (Spanish royal fort) of Monterey and the San Gabriel Mission in California.

With such formidable mountains, canyons and deserts separating the two areas, it took over 50 years of repeated attempts before a suitable route was established. Once the trail was declared, trading and emigration ensued, shaping the progress and development of the west. Parts of the Old Spanish Trail were eventually replaced by wagon roads, and many portions of the routes remain in use today as parts of state highways.

The Old Spanish Trail isn’t just a story of Hispanic trading, it is a part of our country’s history federally recognized as such. In 2001, the National Park Service Advisory Board concluded the Old Spanish Trail is “nationally significant within the theme of the Changing Role of the United States in the World Community and the topics of trade and commerce, during the period of 1829-1848.” And in early 2002, Senator Campbell introduced S 1946, the Old Spanish Trail Recognition Act; later that year, congress passed the bill unanimously. That piece of legislation instructed the Secretary of the Interior to identify and protect for public use and enjoyment the historic routes, as well as any historic remnants and artifacts, associated with commerce and trade from Santa Fe to Los Angeles between 1829 and 1848.

kids at delicate arch

kids at delicate arch

"Supporting our national trails is more than an exercise in nostalgia,” said Secretary Udall on the anniversary of the National Trails. “Think of how much richer a child's knowledge of history might be after a few days spent along the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail.” Think of how much richer a Hispanic child’s knowledge of our history and culture after a few days on the Old Spanish Trail. That is why I personally took local Latino youth into this area just last month – because once their feet touch the earth of these spectacular places, their connection is strengthened, and hopefully so is their urge to protect these sacred lands.

The Moab MLP planning area may only contain a very small fraction of the trail, but it is an important entry point for HECHO as discussions continue within the agencies and the public in the months and years to come. Eight-hundred and eighty-seven miles of the 2,700-mile long Old Spanish Trail are located on BLM-administered lands across six states. When I was with BLM, I was the point State Director for this topic and kept the other five State Directors in the loop. There was and is so much pressure for development that it was hard to keep this resource (the trail) on the radar at both the BLM National and State levels.

We need to speak up to protect our public lands and – more importantly – to preserve our heritage. In the words of noted biologist E.O. Wilson who writes of the “tug of history” on our minds and souls. Who we are is partly a matter of our “stories.” Trails help keep our stories alive.

Development is a reality, but should not come at the expense of the lands we’ve been living on for generations and the historic places that are important factors in the growth and progress of our country. This is our heritage – and a legacy for future generations.

Learning about geology of arches national park from a park service ranger.

Learning about geology of arches national park from a park service ranger.