EDITORIAL: More access

Laguna Atascosa proposes new features for the public

In establishing a public parks program, our government took on two contradictory tasks: preserving sensitive lands and habitat, and enabling the public to enjoy those unique and sometimes spectacular areas. Public access is valuable and necessary — if people can enjoy these parks, they can better understand the government’s protection of them, and often be more supportive of them. That access, however, can disrupt or even damage the very areas that are being protected.

It’s a tough balancing act.

The Rio Grande Valley is home to several parcels of federal lands, including the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge. It’s a popular venue for tourists and even hunters, and it’s also one of the United States’ only habitat for ocelots and jaguarundis, wild cats whose numbers are critically low.

Some areas of the park are kept off limits to the public. However, refuge officials have proposed expanding public access areas to create new hikeand- bike trails, parking lots and restrooms and other facilities, and create or expand activities such as guided tours, fishing clinics and greater canoe and kayak access.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is taking public comments on the proposed expansion through Thursday, Oct. 31. People who wish to offer their thoughts on the proposal can email Christopher_Quezada@fws.gov or mail or take written comments to Laguna Atascosa NWR, 22817 Ocelot Road, Los Fresnos TX 78566.

People who have questions can call (956) 748-3607.

If approved, the expansion will be completed in two phases. The first will extend the hike-andbike trial system from the existing Loma Trail along state Highway 48 in the eastern part of the park. It will extend that trail and create a loop between the Laguna Madre and Bahia Grande. Another trail will run from Hwy. 48 to state Hwy. 100, running along the western edges of the Bahia Grande and Laguna Larga, with rest stops and restroom facilities along the way.

Officials say those improvements should take about six months after environmental and other studies are complete, and they could be ready for public access by next spring.

Phase 2 would create more trails, including a double loop, along the western edge of the Bahia Grande. A bird blind and fishing pier would be built on the southern edge of the Bahia, near Hwy. 48, and fishing and canoekayak access would be expanded at San Martin Lake at the southwest corner of the refuge.

All these improvements promise to offer more chances to enjoy the refuge, including better chances to see some of the wildlife the area supports. In addition, it’s sure to attract even more birdwatchers and ecotourists as well as fishing and recreational enthusiasts.

Much of the improvement will be near the highway or along the edge of some of the park’s major features, leaving the interior pristine and mitigating the disruption of wildlife habitat.

We encourage those who value one of the Valley’s natural treasures to share their thoughts about the additional public access and trail construction at the refuge.