By Associated Press - Saturday, October 10, 2015

VALLES CALDERA NATIONAL PRESERVE, N.M. (AP) - A sprawling parcel of land in northern New Mexico that’s home to vast grasslands and one of North America’s few super volcanoes became part of the National Park Service on Saturday.

U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, members of the state’s congressional delegation, tribal leaders and others gathered at Valles Caldera National Preserve for a celebration to mark the transition.

“This spectacular area tells a story of New Mexico’s rich natural and cultural heritage,” Jewell said. “We are honored to serve as stewards of this land to ensure that it remains cared for and shared with future generations.”

The nearly 89,000-acre preserve is in the Jemez Mountains, just west of Los Alamos.

The federal government purchased the property in 2000 with the goal of operating it as a working ranch while developing recreational opportunities for the public. The acquisition was made using $101 million from the Land and Water Conservation Fund. At the time, it represented the largest land acquisition in New Mexico’s history in terms of its size and cost.

“Valles Caldera is a perfect example of the key role the Land and Water Conservation Fund has played in enhancing public lands from city parks to national parks over the last 50 years,” Jewell said.

Legislation signed last year cleared the way for the property to transition from trust management to the Park Service.

The secretary called on Congress to permanently earmark more funding and resources so other local communities can invest in conservation and historic preservation. Jewell also highlighted the value of the preserve to many native tribes. The Interior Department is committed to being stewards of the preserve and supporting the values held by the tribes, she said.

Public access is expected to increase with the change to the preserve’s status, officials said.

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