Los Alamos County Council Meets New Bandelier Supt. Patrick Suddath, Hears About Upcoming Projects

Supt. Patrick Suddath of Bandelier National Monument met October 19 with Los Alamos County Councilors during their regular session. Suddath has been on the job at Bandelier since mid-August. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com


Los Alamos County Councilors got to meet Bandelier National Monument’s new Supt. Patrick Suddath at their meeting October 19 meeting. In introducing Suddath, Deputy County Manager Linda Matteson noted that Suddath has most recently as a deputy superintendent at Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia. Prior to that, he served as the chief ranger at the Park. He has also been the branch chief of ranger activities at Glacier National Park and held other leadership roles at Joshua Tree and Grand Canyon National Parks as well as a fire look-out and wildland firefighter at Mesa Verde National Park in 1989.

A native of Albuquerque Suddath earned a Bachelor of Arts from New Mexico State University. He enjoys hiking, biking and skiing in his spare time. He assumed his new position at Bandelier August 15.

Suddath said it was a pleasure to be so warmly welcomed into the community and to be back in New Mexico and in this part the country that he loves so much.

“As with every kid that grew up in Albuquerque, every time we had anyone visit us from anywhere, we were in Bandelier – that was just kind of what you did. I have many happy memories of Los Alamos and Bandelier and it is a real honor to be selected to lead that program,” he said.

Suddath noted that he has a very strong background in cultural and natural resources. He said it doesn’t get more cultural than Independence Natural Historical Park with the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall and five national historic landmarks.

“With a background of cultures of the Southwest, I certainly acknowledge in any kind of situation – it’s our pleasure at Bandelier and our honor to be the stewards of traditional and ancestral lands of more than 28 different Native American Communities and Native American indigenous nations,” he said. “We take that responsibility very seriously and I try and ensure that every management decision that we make and everything that we do at the Monument considers the reverence and the appropriateness of those activities in light of how important those lands are to our Pueblo partners.”

Suddath acknowledged that the County is a critical partner for Bandelier, saying that he has nothing but praise for how that relationship has been prior to his arrival here.

“In fact my fire management officer said today that in 2020 and 2021 the Los Alamos Fire Department cooperated with the NPS to provide additional wildland fire support during severity, very high and very extreme fire danger periods. It’s been invaluable to us to have local resources that are qualified and available and know the landscapes around us during these periods,” he said. “Los Alamos Fire Department has been able to meet this need with the Type 6 engine that is staffed with an engine boss and a firefighter. They’ve also been able to assist with prescribed fires, provide our staff with staff with first aid and CPR training.”

Suddath said he hopes to be able to continue this relationship in the future and offered his deepest thanks to LAFS, EMS and the other departments within the County which he said are of such great importance to Bandelier.

He said level of visitation that Bandelier experienced in prior years has not ceased so 2021 is gearing up to be potentially one of the highest visitation years that the Park has ever experienced, adding that he would share the numbers with the community when they become available.

“Our preliminary monthly counts are showing that we are on track probably to have historic visitation records so you may or may not be feeling that in your community,” Suddath said.

He noted that unfortunately even right up to the few days prior, NPS has had to stop people entering the Park for periods of time probably almost every day this summer and certainly through the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta.

“It may be because of this lovely weather we’re experiencing… it’s obviously not ideal for our visitors. The upside of that is that the revenue we’re bringing in from the Park entrance station, which under the current fee guidelines a good percentage of that comes back to the Park for projects that we wouldn’t otherwise receive an appropriation for. We are on track also to set a record there as well, Suddath said.

He said it is hope that the County will keep the Atomic City Transit shuttle bus service from White Rock to Bandelier running.

“It seems like an outstanding partnership to me and a real model of what a good community partnership looks like with the National Park Service. That service has kept us from having to turn visitors away. It has funneled visitors back into the communities of Los Alamos and White Rock, where hopefully they engage with local businesses. At a bare minimum they are engaging with the Visitor Center and receiving information about other area attractions so that we can disperse that visitation out across the area and perhaps bring some more visitors up into the community to see the wonderful museums you have here and the science museum and maybe even look at the Manhattan Project sites” Suddath said.

He said he thinks that’s obviously an outstanding benefit that both the community and the Park are receiving.

“Hopefully those visitors are spending a little of their hard earned dollars in patronizing some of the businesses and restaurants and other services that are available in the community. We certainly hope that the Council decides to continue supporting this project. We feel on the National Park Service side that it’s been an outstanding program and our role model not only for the visitors but for what good partnerships and good communications are with such a critical partner as Los Alamos County,” Suddath said.

He also took the opportunity to update the Council on current discussions about an Air Tour Management Plan for Bandelier that originated with a lawsuit filed by the National Parks Conservation Association filed against Federal Aviation Administration that resulted in 24 parks that had existing air tour operations being required to enter into an Air Tour Management process.

“The FAA is the lead agency on this and they’ve been chewing away at this very big process in a very methodical and somewhat formulaic kind of manner. We had our first public meeting during my first week of work and I think the FAA and NPS were actually quite surprised to see the level of interest Bandelier received on that,” Suddath said. “I think only Badlands has received more public comment than we have. The vast majority of the comments we have received have been opposed to air tours over Bandelier. I think that he fact that we have an existing air tour is somewhat lost on some of the people that have commented.”

He said most notably, four of Bandelier’s partner pueblo nations have weighed in very officially that the consultation effort that went out via the FAA was not sufficient and that they feel that it’s inappropriate to have air tours over the National Park site. He noted that the FAA has regrouped and is initiating a more formal and more official consultation process with the tribes. The public comment period is now closed.

Suddath said Bandelier received a fairly large project on the Great American Outdoors Act from last year.

“We are currently in the design phase of connecting roughly a $34 million complete rehabilitation of our utility infrastructure. We hope to get that project in the design phase this year with the goal to begin construction in FY23 so when that begins that will replace aging water, sewer, electric and gas systems that are going into the historic area and down to our headquarters area. All of that will be replaced. Hopefully we can do that with a minimal amount of disruption but we anticipate that in 2023 there will be some amount of delays and potentially some minor periodic closures that hopefully we can mitigate those impacts to our visitors in an effective way,” he said.

He added that water and sewage lines as well as lift stations adjacent to the Park headquarters are being replaced and that the project should be completed in April 2022. He did not anticipate much disruption of operations or access to the public from that project.

“A little more significant because it is very well loved by our partners and the community is the Tsankawi Project. The state is currently doing utility corridors along that intersection and then following that project the Department of Energy is going to go in there and completely redesign the intersection,” Suddath said.

The project will result in a dedicated lane into the Tsankawi area and the Park Service plans to construct a more modern and appropriate parking lot so that visitors don’t have to back out into oncoming traffic on NM4 while visiting the site.

“It’s going to improve public safety quite a bit. The impacts that are anticipated are that at some point during construction, I don’t believe parking and access are going to be safe, so we will probably plan for relatively extensive closure of the Tsankawi area doing that construction. The upside to this is it might give us a chance to address some of the social trailing and maybe do some stabilization on some of the ancestral sites in that area that have been fairly heavily impacted by high visitation,” he said.