NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – New Mexico and tribal officials are celebrating the acquisition of a huge piece of property that is now the largest state-owned recreation area.

For the first time, vast areas of wilderness near Grants, New Mexico, will be open to the public to enjoy.

“These lands have been in private ownership for quite some time and really the tribes here in New Mexico including Acoma and most of our public have never had access to these pristine lands that are now accessible,” says Theresa Pasqual, director of the Acoma Historic Preservation Office.

The acquisition of the L Bar Ranch property will add 54,000 acres to the Marquez Wildlife Management Area. “It is fantastically beautiful with big volcanic cones and high mesas with grasslands, and I’ve been up there and just seen elk racing across these mesas,” says Jim Petterson, vice president of the Mountain West Region Trust for Public Land.

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The state paid for most of the $34 million dollar price tag. The purchase gives access to lands the public couldn’t use before. “All of the big game hunting opportunities will be reserved for New Mexico residents,” says Rep. Nathan Small, (D-Las Cruces). The acquisition is protecting core wildlife habitats between 6,000 and 9,000 feet and reconnecting communities to lands that are culturally significant to them.

“This is really important for the Pueblo of Acoma and for many other pueblos—Pueblo of Laguna, Zuni, the Navajo Nation, others that believe that Mt. Taylor and all of the land that surrounds it is a sacred site,” says Keegan King, a citizen of the Pueblo of Acoma.

“You can look out towards the greater Chacoan landscape in many of the ways that our ancestors did a long time ago,” Pasqual says. The Game and Fish Department will develop a management plan for the area to safeguard wildlife and culturally significant sites. There is no set date yet for when the area will be open to the public.