Hello everyone, my name is Mayra Herrera and I am the Centennial Volunteer Ambassador (CVA) at Chamizal National Memorial (CHAM) in El Paso, Texas. I am originally from Oxnard, California a growing coastal city 60 miles north of downtown Los Angeles and 38 miles south of Santa Barbara. Having lived 5 minutes away from the ocean and then moving to the Chihuahuan desert has been a dramatic environmental change for me. When I arrived in El Paso following the CVA orientation at the Rockies, I got out of the airplane into 100 degrees of burning Chihuahuan desert heat. I thought to myself “Oh man, will this be an interesting summer!”
Settling into CHAM has been fast, smooth, and busy. I arrived at the park’s peak visitation season due to its popular concert series, Music Under the Stars that runs for 8 consecutive Sundays during June and July. The parks staff has been amazing and has facilitated my entry into the park. My first couple of weeks consisted of learning about the 100 year old boundary dispute between the United States and Mexico that lead to the Chamizal Treaty of 1963. I have also assisted the staff during regular visitor center operations, theatre performances, and passing out annual visitor center surveys.
Working with the volunteers at CHAM has been an amazing and rewarding experience. During the Music Under the Stars events I led a crew of about 8 regular volunteers that would come out and help with the National Park Service booth for about 4 or 5 hours. Depending on the performer, the event would attract anywhere between 1,200 to 5,000 visitors. Fourth of July was the only exception; CHAM had both the El Paso Wind Symphony perform that hot, humid, and rainy night along with a fireworks display to an audience of almost 18,000 visitors. Keep in mind our park is not that large so our volunteers were very much appreciated by the park staff working that night!
Another big program that has been going on at CHAM is Trailblazers Find Your Park, where a group of 40 children ages 7-17 get to go to the parks surrounding El Paso. This program takes the group various city, state, and national parks in hopes of creating potential open-space advocates. On the day the group came to CHAM we had 3 volunteers assist the park staff for the day’s schedule of programs. Some of the NPS units we visited included White Sands National Monument, Carlsbad Caverns National Park, and Guadalupe Mountains National Park. Some of the city and state parks included Rio Bosque Park, Pavo Real Recreation Center, and Franklin Mountains State Park-Tom Mayes Unit. Creating these partnerships between agencies are crucial to CHAM since our location is at the center of the city of El Paso. Two of our college bound volunteers assisted two park guides, three teacher ranger interns, and two SCA interns including myself in leading this group to find their parks.
My next project will be recruiting and leading volunteers on September 26, 2015 for National Public Lands Day. I have met with CHAM’s Superintendent Gus Sanchez, Chief of Interpretation Anne Doherty-Stephen, Chief of Maintenance Alex Tapia, and Visitor Center Supervisor/Volunteer Coordinator Rodney Sauter to begin outlining the event. We hope to initiate a xeriscaping project on the grounds alongside CHAM staff and 50 recruited volunteers from the local community. This restoration project would remove a small area of turf vegetation and install native plants in its place. Until next time, I hope you are all enjoying your assigned parks!