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Christmas Mountains could get new owners

Christmas Mountains could get new owners

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Associated Press

AUSTIN -- Control of the state-owned Christmas Mountains, property that at one time drew the attention of the National Park Service, could end up with a university.

Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson has discussed the idea to shift control of the nearly 9,300-acre tract, adjacent to Big Bend National Park, to Sul Ross State University, the Austin American-Statesman reported Friday.

Patterson told the newspaper that the subject of control of the Christmas Mountains came up this summer as he spoke with state Rep. Pete Gallego of Alpine, where the school is based. The university has a natural resource management department.

Nothing has been formally proposed, according to Patterson, who says he occasionally has casual conversations about the tract. Gallego did not immediately comment.

"We know a conversation has happened, but we have not been engaged to write up contracts," said Leo Dominguez, an associate vice president for advancement and university relations at Sul Ross State.

The school had 2,038 students at its Alpine campus in 2009 and a $28 million budget.

The General Land Office is responsible for managing land to raise money for the Permanent School Fund.

"We have issues about fiduciary responsibility and appraised value of the property," said Patterson. "But we could make something work."

A conservation group in 1991 donated the Christmas Mountains spread to the state. That led to arguments over what to do with the wilderness terrain, involving the National Park Service, environmental advocates and the General Land Office.

Patterson in 2007 proposed an auction of the land to private bidders, but abandoned the idea after public criticism.

The commissioner, the following year, said he believed the National Park Service would not be the best manager of the land.

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