Welcome to Wilderness Wednesday, our weekly posting to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act.
This week we are highlighting the Continental Divide Wilderness Study Area (WSA), which is located in the west-central part of New Mexico. Here, rolling grassland gives way to the steeper slopes of Pelona Mountain with areas of piñon pine woodland and occasional ponderosa pine. The Continental Divide National Scenic Trail passes through this WSA.
Many of the Wilderness and Wilderness Study Areas managed by the BLM contain State-owned lands. As a territory and later at the time of admission as a new State, the Federal government granted New Mexico 4 unconnected sections of Federal land in every township. This land grant was for the support of schools and other public purposes.
One outcome of the state land grant was a land pattern of individual State sections scattered broadly through the remaining Federal lands. The resulting land pattern was not always conducive to efficient management. To improve management, the BLM and the State of New Mexico work together to exchange lands in some areas. This allows the State to receive land more suitable for commercial uses which generates increased revenue for the public schools and other state trust beneficiaries. The BLM then receives the isolated State lands for incorporation into areas of high public and conservation value, such as a WSA. In this way, approximately 6,000 acres of state land in and adjacent to the Continental Divide WSA were acquired by the BLM. In the exchange, the State received lands it is able to develop to greater financial support of its beneficiaries. Follow the link to the Continental Divide WSA website, and you will see on the map that land ownership of the State and Federal governments is consolidated here, in part the result of a past land exchange.
To visit this WSA, drive west from Socorro, NM on US Highway 60 for approximately 46.5 miles and turn south onto NM Highway 52 (gravel). Drive for about 21.5 miles on NM 52 and turn west onto NM Highway 163 (gravel). Travel approximately 14.5 miles on 163 to a small pullout serving as a trailhead to the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail. Hike on the Trail to the west to enter the rolling grasslands in this part of the WSA. Getting here requires a vehicle suitable to driving gravel highways.
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