Jemez Pueblo wants land in Pecos Canyon

Jemez, Pueblo, New Mexico (AP) 5-08

Jemez Pueblo Gov. Paul Chinana says the northern New Mexico pueblo wants 70 acres along the Pecos River where many campsites currently are located.

The pueblo wants the land to protect a cave that has cultural significance to pueblo members, particularly those who are descendants of a group that lived in Pecos before the mid-1800s and became part of Jemez Pueblo, he said.

“It’s a cave that they used to do their pilgrimages ... and initiations,” Chinana said.

Campers “defecate along the river and bring their dogs. They trash out the Terrero Cave,” he said. “We’ve been working with Game and Fish to close the cave entry. We put some barricades ... with a gate, and it was chained. But they always break it and leave broken beer bottles and cans all over in the entry.”

Officials of nearby communities are concerned about possible changes for the land, the Simmons Tract, which is north of the village of Pecos and south of Terrero. It’s owned by the state Department of Game and Fish.

“I am totally against anything happening to those campgrounds,” said Pecos Mayor Tony Roybal. “If the campers can’t come and camp along that river, it will cost us money. If the Indians open up a business of their own, that will cost us money.”

Officials from the village of Pecos and San Miguel County passed identical resolutions Wednesday asking New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson to ensure that the state Game Commission “initiate discussions and solicit input ... before proceeding further concerning the disposition of any area in the Pecos Canyon.”

The tract includes about 75 percent of the campgrounds in the area, said San Miguel County Commissioner Hugh Ley, who owns a store in Terrero.

Game and Fish spokesman Marty Frentzel said the pueblo has not made an offer. Chinana said the pueblo is having the land surveyed and appraised to figure out how to proceed.

Ley said that if Jemez Pueblo was readying a proposal for the state agency, the community should offer an alternative plan. Ley, members of the Upper Pecos Watershed Association and others would like all publicly owned land in the canyon to become a state park.

Chinana said the pueblo would not necessarily close the area to campers if it owned the land.

“We don’t want to be closing anything down. We’d rather work with people than to make enemies,” he said. “That was the old territory of the Pecos tribal members, and it’s just land we are trying to get back, even if we have to buy it.”

The pueblo would prefer to have the land administratively transferred to it, he said.

Under state law, that would not be an option if the tract is appraised for more than $100,000.

“If they do make some sort of proposal, I’m sure the governor would want community input on it,” said a Richardson spokesman, Gilbert Gallegos. “I wouldn’t characterize the governor as supporting or opposing it so far. I guess they wanted this cave transferred to them, but they can’t have it just transferred. They would have to purchase it.”