Local property owners in New Mexico and Oklahoma dealt a death blow to the Dry Cimarron National Scenic Byway during February. The corridor, already a state designation, was to become a national scenic byway as it winds through Union County, New Mexico, and Cimarron County, Oklahoma, but landowners from the two counties protested the designation at the meetings of both county commissioners.
The Union County commissioners faced two hours of questions and comments about the designation during their hearing on February 10 to weigh their application for the designation of the Dry Cimarron National Scenic Byway. The New Mexico Scenic Byways coordinator Laurie Frantz articulated the viewpoint that the byway would bring no impositions on landowners except to regulate billboards and that revenue sources would be opened up for improvements and for marketing to attract tourism.
Many people raised their forceful opposition. Property owners Cathy Daniel and Eugene Like, both of Folsom in Union County, made prepared statements about potential threats to private property rights. Both of these landowners were concerned about interference with wind energy development. Their concern was confirmed by an article that appeared in the High Country News on February 16, which stated that one of the grounds raised last fall by a large group of residents in Villanueva, New Mexico, against a wind farm proposed by Chicago-based Invenergy was that their wind towers would be visible from a scenic corridor.
Ms. Daniels also presented a letter in opposition to the national byway from the Southern Colorado Livestock Association. The landowners were especially concerned about the official Corridor Management Plan, which had been drawn up over a number of years. Its co-writers said in its defense that it was a living document that could be revised by the community.
The commissioners passed a motion to not send in a letter of support for the application that had been prepared to send to Washington, D.C., to create the National Scenic Byway. Immediately after a break, according to the Union County Leader, Ruby Dorsey-Gonzales of the Union County Community Development Corporation (known as UCCDC), who co-wrote the application as well as the Corridor Management Plan, told the commission that she would pull the application.
At the end of the meeting, Union County Commissioner Justin Bennett asked the audience if were there were any problems with the state designation of the Dry Cimarron Scenic Byway, which dates from 1997. According to the Union County Leader, the consensus was that the people had no problems with the state designation as long as there were no changes.
A few days later, on February 12, a number of landowners from western Cimarron County and eastern Union County gathered for the meeting of the Cimarron County commissioners in Oklahoma. Officials from the Oklahoma Department of Transportation, Oklahoma University, and Cimarron County, who had led the effort, tried to defend their plan against vocal opposition. In addition to the local landowners, Kimmi Lewis, an influential property rights activist from La Junta, Colorado, spoke forcefully against the program. As a result of the red-hot session, the commissioners turned down the plan to apply for the national status for the byway.
D. F. David, the editor of The Boise City News slammed the opposition the next week in his column, saying that many of the people in the room would like to see the Constitution amended to include prayer, stop abortions and make English the official language. But he did not mention a single one of the arguments raised by the opposition to the National Scenic Byway. Losing was bitter for Cimarron County's scenic byway advocates. However the hard-working property owners had a justified sense of pride in winning this victory across both sides of the state line.