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Waco Tribune: Waco mammoths unscathed by Trump national monument scrutiny

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WACO, May 2, 2017 | comments
By J.B. Smith 

National parks advocates are worried about the review President Donald Trump ordered last week of national park listings that other presidents have made over the last two decades.

But the Waco Mammoth National Monument is not one to worry about, Waco’s congressman said this week.

Rep. Bill Flores, R-Bryan, said the inquiry involves only national parks and monuments larger than 100,000 acres. The National Park Service owns only five acres at the Waco site, which President Barack Obama made a national monument in 2015 under the Antiquities Act.

 

Trump’s executive order calls for an Interior Department review of 24 Antiquities Act designations going back to 1996. Parks advocates worry it’s a prelude for overturning or rolling back controversial designations, including Obama’s order in December to create the 1.3-million-acre Bears Ears National Monument in Utah.

Legal scholars are divided about whether the 1906 Antiquities Act allows Trump to completely eliminate a predecessor’s designation.

But Flores said he is confident the Waco Mammoth National Monument designation is permanent.

“The Waco mammoth site should be a national monument,” he said. “It is not at risk.”

Flores said he has had conversations about the issue with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, a friend and former congressional colleague.

“I’ve worked with them to make sure there are at least a couple of tests that keep the mammoth site out of the mix,” he said.

Those tests include the size of the park facility and the amount of public support for it.

“The mammoth site was widely supported by its stakeholders, by Baylor, the city, the county, the (Waco Mammoth) Foundation,” Flores said.

“That’s a 180-degree contrast from some of the others that have been done. . . . I think there’s a lot of designations out there that shouldn’t have been made, so I applaud Trump’s efforts to have them reviewed. In some cases, the land grabs were huge. There may have been designations that made sense, but they added extra land they didn’t need.”

Flores and his staff toured the mammoth site a few weeks ago, and he said he was impressed with the tour by mammoth site manager Raegan King.

“She did a marvelous job making it more meaningful,” he said.

Waco Mammoth Foundation board President Charlie Walter said the board has been concerned about the uncertainty regarding the Trump administration’s direction on recently designated national monuments.

“I’m personally not worried about the Waco Mammoth National Monument,” said Walter, who is director of Baylor University’s Mayborn Museum. “The indication I’ve gotten specifically about the monument is that it’s a model for what the National Park Service is in its next iteration.”

He said a capital campaign for the next phase of development is “definitely in our future.”

“We just want to be very thoughtful about how we approach it,” he said. “That’s why having the National Park Service as a partner in this has been so important. They do some of the most thoughtful planning for interpretive sites.”

The city of Waco covers about $400,000 of the site’s annual budget, while the federal government pays about $180,000.

Long-term plan

 

Walter said the foundation, which has recently been reorganized as a nonprofit “friends” organization for the national monument, will be meeting with National Park Service staff soon to start work on a new long-term plan for the site.

That would likely include previously identified needs such as a new visitors center and a children’s discovery center, along with other interpretive amenities. The plan could also sketch out future trails through the 95-acre property the city of Waco owns around the national monument, stretching to the Bosque River.

King, the site manager, said attendance numbers at the site continue to shoot up, largely because of the federal designation.

Park visitation for April was 10,208, up 71 percent from April 2016’s visitation of 5,980. Between May 1, 2016, and April 30, attendance was 85,616 — an 81 percent increase over the previous year.

Tourism is booming in Waco, and with the addition of the arrowhead to the park, we are just so busy,” she said, referring to the National Park Service logo.

The site has been so popular that it has booked up group tours through the end of the school year, she said.

One challenge in dealing with the crowds is that the site does not yet have a federal park ranger because of hiring delays caused by the federal hiring freeze earlier this year. King said a seasonal ranger should be in place later this summer, and she is hoping to get a permanent ranger at some point.



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