America’s newest national park is a massive sand dune

White Sands National Monument in New Mexico is now White Sands National Park.

On Friday, President Donald Trump signed the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 that, among many other things, stripped away the monument status and upgraded it to “national park.” The 275 square miles of desert filled with gypsum sand dunes in southern New Mexico became the 62nd national park in the federal system.

The act proclaims the establishment of White Sands Park is intended “to protect, preserve, and restore its scenic, scientific, educational, natural, geological, historical, cultural, archaeological, paleontological, hydrological, fish, wildlife, and recreational values and to enhance visitor experiences….”

The re-designation comes after White Sands was established as a national monument in 1933 to preserve the dunefield, believed to be the biggest on the planet. In 2018, New Mexico Sen. Martin Heinrich introduced a bill to turn White Sands into a national park. More than 10 years earlier, a nearby missile range used by the military prompted controversy about adding the desert sands to the World Heritage Sites list. In a fight to maintain the military space that proposal was shot down.

Now under the national park agreement, the missile site is transferred to the Army and more land is protected. 

White Sands joins the ranks of Yellowstone (the first established national park back in 1872), Yosemite, and the last national park to join the list — another dunefield — Indiana Dunes on the shores of Lake Michigan, in February.

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