A planned Oct. 17 event that was expected to draw more than 800 people and vehicles to the bed of the Rio Grande has been cancelled, according to a Sept. 30 post on the Doña Ana County Sheriff’s Department (DASO) Facebook page.
“Please be advised the 4th Annual River Run, scheduled for Oct. 17, is not permitted by the [the International Boundary and Water Commission (USIBWC)] as of today,” the post said. “DASO will honor its written obligation to USIBWC to enforce trespassing and other laws associated with the river management. Also, the governor has not lifted the mass gathering clause of the [public health] order.” Prior to DASO’s announcement, the event was drawing fire from environmental groups who contended it should be canceled or curtailed.
According to an Oct. 1 letter sent to the commissioner of the International Boundary and Water Commission (USIBWC), the event was being billed on social media as “The Fourth Annual River Run,” an off-road vehicle rally that was to have taken place in the bed and along the banks of the Rio Grande starting at the Mesilla Dam, going north to Shalem Colony and then returning to the point of origin.
The letter contends a “mini River Run” was scheduled Oct. 10.
Event organizer Randall Limon of Las Cruces said the event may still take place pending a permit from the USIBWC, and if it is not allowed at that location, a new venue will be found.
“I do a lot of events with the side-by-side community,” he said. “We raise money for families who need help, especially now during the pandemic. This year we will be taking donations for two families. I will not charge for participation.”
He said the event has sponsors and they will be giving away gift cards. The “mini run” Oct. 10 has been canceled in respect for the concerns people have raised, he said. The main event is more of a participation for fun sport. Many of the things, like live music and barbecues, have been canceled for Oct. 17, and people generally don’t congregate. They will stay socially distanced, usually in family groups, he said.
The Oct. 1 letter – jointly signed by Kevin Bixby, executive director of the Southwest Environmental Center, Elaine Stachera Simon, president of the Mesilla Valley Audubon Society and Carolyn Gressitt, president of the Las Cruces chapter of the Native Plant Society of New Mexico – cited the event’s Facebook page showing 880 people having planned on going and 1,900 people having declared an interest in the event, as of Oct. 1.
“There will be hundreds if not thousands of vehicles of all types participating, including all-terrain vehicles, utility task vehicles, trucks and motorcycles,” the letter states. “There will be vehicles traveling in two directions in the riverbed during these events, often at high rates of speed, while others are stationary because they have gotten stuck. Based on YouTube videos of previous years’ events, participants particularly like to drive through whatever water remains in the river, deliberately skidding out, doing donuts and throwing up plumes of water and mud.”
The signatories asserted there were significant reasons for the event to be postponed, curtailed or cancelled, including danger to the participants, spectators and passersby, damage to the riverbed, harm to wildlife, destruction of native plants and violation of state health orders designed to limit the spread of COVID-19.
“For all of these reasons, we urge you to contact the organizers of these events and explain to them that land managed by USIBWC within the Rio Grande Canalization Project is unsuitable for events such as theirs,” the letter states. “We also urge you to coordinate with local law enforcement to make sure these events do not go forward without USIBWC authorization.”
While addressed to USIBWC Commissioner Jayne Harkins, the letter was copied to state and local elected officials, as well as officials with the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Elephant Butte Irrigation District, New Mexico Department of Game and Fish and the New Mexico Parks Division. Also copied were Sheriff Kim Stewart and District Attorney Mark D’Antonio, among others.
Limon said he understands the environmental concerns and the vehicles are to stay in the riverbed, not go up the banks into environmentally fragile and sensitive areas. They are also making extra effort to see that trash is picked up and the areas involved are not damaged.
“We will be going out there with t-posts and caution tape to keep everyone in the river,” he said. “We plan to go from Mesilla Dam to Black Bridge and turn around to avoid the sanctuary [Mesilla Valley Bosque State Park] area.”
Since COVID-19 hit, Limon said people have been looking for alternatives to social gatherings, and one popular option has been to head for the desert in a four-wheel-drive vehicle of some sort. Limon said the people need the relief and the city could use the business.
“I see where the concern is coming from,” he said. “Why can’t we all work together? We are trying our hardest to comply. There is always that one bad apple, we shouldn’t all be punished over it. I do this out of love for what I do.”