BIG BEND SUPERINTENDENT TRAVELED TO MEXICO IN 1954 TO PROMOTE INTERNATIONAL PARK
TALK BY LEMUEL A. GARRISON
SUPERINTENDENT, BIG BEND NATIONAL PARK
Before the Saltillo Rotary Club
April 20, 1954
Saltillo, Coahuila, Mexico
The International Peace Park project is one that involves addition of land by the Federal Government of Mexico to land already set aside by the Federal Government of the United States, to create in the Big Bend of the Rio Grande or the Rio Bravo del Norte as you call it, a great International Park, dedicated to peace and to the friendly relationships between our two great and neighborly nations. We have a common boundary of many hundreds and even thousands of miles without an armed post along it for defense or aggression against each other. There is only one other such boundary in the world and that is the United States boundary with Canada. Here, the peace and harmony commemorated by an unfortified frontier already have been honored by creation of an International Peace Park involving both Canada and the United States. Thus, we have precedent for such a park, and I assure you that many, many citizens of good will of your nation and of my nation are sincerely in accord with the principle that this era of peace, cooperation and harmony should be marked by the creation and joint dedication and use of an International Peace Park along the boundary between Mexico and the United States. This will show the whole world the inspiring spectacle of two great nations joining hands in a constructive and friendly project honoring Peace instead of War.
This thought alone is enough to inspire most men who contemplate it and who have a modicum of vision. However, while it is the most impelling and inspiring reason for creation of the International Park, it is far from the only one.
Second, is the great natural beauty of the area and the unique flora and fauna found there. Mr. Sholly and I were there for four days last month and we speak from firsthand knowledge. It is not high mountains as you know them in Central Mexico, but it is an area of high mountains and magnificent scenery along your northern frontier. Elevations run up to nearly 10,000 feet in the Sierra Fronteriza or Madera del Carmen; there is a small stream of water even in this period of extended drought, and there are colorful cliffs and canyons much like the world famed Grand Canyon National Park in the United States. There are the same three major canyons of the Rio Grande we have in Big Bend National Park. There is a forest which is unlike any other forest in the world. It is a forest which is of great interest and value to scientists everywhere who know of it. It is unique and rare because, here in the midst of a desert, we find high mountains, with many trees; and while some of these trees are the typical trees of Mexico and the life zone we call the Upper Sonoran life zone, along with them are the typical trees of southern Canada. The Douglas fir, the Ponderosa pine, the limber pine, the white pine, the quaking aspen—these are all trees of Canada, and it is indeed startling to find them in Mexico in the Sierra Fronteriza in greater variety than we find them across the river in our own Sierra Chisos. This one fact makes this an area of truly great significance scientifically. It provides a rare opportunity for botanists and for students of plants and animals, to find in one place a most exciting and strangely assorted collection. Wildlife consists of deer, javelina, bear, cougar, foxes and wild turkey.
Another reason why an International Park is important to you and to us is that it will be a great financial asset to you and to us. Picture the present Big Bend National Park, joined south of the Rio Grande by a companion National Park in Mexico. Then picture the hordes of visitors who come already to Big Bend National Park—over 84,000 last year—almost doubled because people want to visit Mexico and the International Park, and picture these visitors in the International Park with the boundaries of our nations pulled back to the park boundaries, thus creating an International Free Zone—your citizens may visit our land, our citizens may visit your land–. This scene would bring joy to the eyes of any park administrator and it would also bring joy to the eyes of any banker, for it is a well established fact that tourists—particularly United States tourists—spend money fairly freely, and we know that in our land these tourists spend an average of around $10 per day per person while traveling, and because they keep moving, there are new ones coming into a park area all the time.
We vision high quality eating establishments, craftsmen working on their native materials for sale to tourists, and typical music and food of both our nations on our respective sides of the boundary. We vision roads for access from and into Mexico. We vision trails for horseback riders to use. We vision hotels and lodges and automobile camps.
Another reason such a park is important to you is that invariably some way is found to improve roads within and with access to such a park.
This park will be partially in Coahuila and partially in Chihuahua and partially in Texas. In the United States, the access roads are constructed and many of them paved. In Chihuahua, access must come from the proposed road improvement between Ojinaga and Chihuahua City. This road would lead in on the west side of the park, including an opportunity to visit the famous Santa Elena Canyon if desired.
From Coahuila, the most ready access will be from the Cd. Acuna-Muzquiz road which is already improved for about 100 kilometers north of Muzquiz. From this road, side roads must lead into Madera del Carmen and on up the timbered area which is ideally cool in the summer, and also up and across Mesa del Jardin. From here a road should be carried on down to Villa Boquillas. Here would be the major tourist development probably with a crossing from the United States for travel in either direction.
We freely predict that if this park is created and dedicated as an International Park of Peace, it will draw so many people into the area that at first the roads will be terrible and complaints numerous, but this will lead to road improvements. Also, it will lead to greatly increased prosperity for the people who live in the park and who care for tourists, and for the merchants who supply the local business firms, and for many, many others whose business will be helped only incidentally. Certainly this has been the picture in the United States—any national park draws great crowds of people. These people bring prosperity with them in the money they bring with them to spend. This prosperity extends to the people who sell things to the people who visit the park. This is a multiple reaction, and affects whole regions near national parks.
We now have listed four reasons for making this a great International Peace Park—first, it is an affirmation of goodwill and unity; second, it is an area of great scenic beauty and scientific interest; third, it will be a definite financial asset to the whole of northern Mexico; and fourth, it will inevitably lead to improved roads. We can sum these last arguments up simply by stating that while local owners may object to National Parks because they change the present economic pattern, the change always results in a much higher level of local economy and works to the ultimate welfare of all the region.
In 1944, President Franklin D. Roosevelt wrote to His Excellency, General Manuel Avila Camacho, President of the United Mexican States, his hopes that
“In the United States we think of the Big Bend region in terms of its international significance and hope that the Mexican people look forward in the same spirit to the establishment of an adjoining national park in the States of Chihuahua and Coahuila. These adjoining parks would form an area which would be a meeting ground for the people of both countries, exemplifying their culture, resources and advancement, and inspiring further mutually beneficial progress in recreation and science and the industries related thereto. I do not believe that this undertaking in the Big Bend area will be complete until the entire park area in this region on both sides of the Rio Grande forms one great International Park …..”
To this letter, President Avila Camacho replied in part as follows:
“I am glad to inform you, for my part, that I have already given special instructions to the Department of Foreign Relations and to that of Agriculture and Fomento in order that, within the spheres of their respective functions, they may pursue as actively as is suitable in this matter the studies that have already been initiated for the purposes of the creation of the Mexican section of the said park, as well as for the regulation of its services, and, in general, so that all measures conducive to the accomplishment of such aims may be adopted …..”
That was ten years ago. It is evident to you as it is to us that all we may do is recommend and urge that you hasten the action of your government to make the park fulfill its most useful function. The time to do so is now—because it appears highly probable that the formal dedication of Big Bend National Park in the United States will take place in October of this year. A delegation from the United States Congress, from Texas, from all interested citizens, is meeting with President Eisenhower one week from today to present the formal invitation. We are hopeful that he will accept it, and if he does, then through proper channels invitations will be sent to your President, His Excellency Adolfo Ruiz Cortines, to the Minister of Agriculture, to the Minister of Foreign Relations, to your Governor of the state, and to other officials and dignitaries of your Federal and State government, both in Coahuila and Chihuahua.
We look upon this as a golden opportunity—one which will never rise again. It would seem proper for your government to now make the necessary preparations so that at the time of this glorious dedication ceremony when the eyes of both our nations, and the eyes of the whole world are upon our great leaders, formal announcement could be made of the actuality of this great International Park project which has been a dream for so many of us for so long.
However, the time to start is here. We promise that we will keep your officials fully informed of developments, and that we will gladly do anything within our power to achieve success.
Again, may I thank you for your kindness, your good attention, and your hospitality and your courtesy. It is traditional, and it is well known throughout our nation, that Mexico is a land of courtesy, charm, and of hospitality. Certainly you have lived up to your reputation in this regard, and we have enjoyed being with you and knowing you.
Now, we wish to extend to each and every one of you an invitation to visit us in the United States section of the International Peace Park at any time you can. We cannot possibly equal your display of hospitality, but you will be met with friendship and with a sincere desire to show you what we are doing in our section of the International Park and to explain in detail the possibilities which await you and your government when your own portion of the International Peace Park becomes a reality.
We hope we will see all of you at some time, and some of you very soon. Thank you and goodbye.
L.A. Garrison, Superintendent, Big Bend National Park
April 20, 1954