Saving Green Space in the City
Does UNM plan to pave paradise?
For a variety of users, from joggers to coyotes, the UNM golf course offers a green sanctuary amidst the city’s drab concrete and urban sprawl. Some call it Albuquerque’s “Central Park.” Now the pastoral north campus course may be in danger, among speculation that the university is considering the site for future development.
Last month, UNM released a “request for information,” soliciting ideas for development on its campus, including the public golf course. Despite the request, the university denies any plans to develop the golf course--at least, for now. “The president and the Regents have stated in open meetings and to the press that there are no plans for development at the north golf course,” says Steven Beffort, associate vice president of Business Development and Auxiliary Enterprise at UNM. Bruce Cherrin, director of Purchasing and University Services for the university, confirmed Beffort’s statement. “Currently, UNM has neither definite nor tentative plans for the north golf course, other than maintaining its current use.”
Sara Koplik, president of the North Campus Neighborhood Association, is pleased by the university’s claim. But does she believe it? “Of course not,” Koplik says. “There’s a big map of the campus [published by UNM], and across the entire golf course is written, ‘potential development area.’ This is a 20-year struggle this neighborhood has been involved in. And we’ve lost every battle so far.”
The golf course, constructed under the leadership of former UNM president Thomas Popejoy, was one of the final projects of the Works Progress Administration, built just before America entered World War II. The university purchased the land for $1 and transplanted more than a thousand donated trees, dug from backyards throughout the city.
Popejoy’s vision for the golf course was of a place where anyone could enjoy the green. “Its facilities are not intended for any one group, but for all those who wish to use them,” he wrote in a 1942 memorandum. When the course opened, green fees were 25 cents. Popejoy invited the airmen from Kirtland to play the course’s 18 holes.
Due to expansive development, the space has since shrunk to a nine-hole golf course. “We’ve had building after building built on the golf course,” says Koplik. “It’s gone from a large golf course to being the smallest golf course you could possibly have. It’s only nine holes. If it gets any smaller, it won’t be a golf course anymore.” Further development on the course, she says, would destroy its legacy as a recreational retreat. “Once you lose the golf course, you lose the whole area. You lose the sense that it’s a large space. Then, we know it will just be cut apart, piece by piece.”
True to Popejoy’s vision, the north campus course remains open for public use. “It’s not just for the neighborhood,” says Koplik. “It’s for the entire city. There’s a two-mile track. Anyone can walk on the periphery. You don’t need a membership card. It’s a wonderful resource for the people of Albuquerque.” Koplik estimates that well over 1,100 people use the golf course every day.
Last month, Koplik organized a rally and walk to protest development on the golf course. More than 800 people attended in support, including Lt. Gov. Diane Denish, State Rep. Danice Picraux and City Councilor Isaac Benton. The Albuquerque City Council opposes development of the course, as does Mayor Chavez, who says he would deny the university access to utilities history if it decides to proceed with development.
Says Koplik, “We’re delighted that the university says it has no plans. But we’d like to take that one step further.” Koplik and supporters of the course want UNM to pledge that it will keep the golf course. In February, a House Memorial that called for protection of the course passed unanimously. The university, however, isn’t making any promises.