Fundraiser aims to save ghost town turned conservation center – Silvercity Daily Press

(Courtesy picture)
Travis Perry quizzes the students on the day’s lessons over dinner before a glorious sunset over the Black Range in Hermosa.

By LLOYD PARKER
Daily Press Correspondent
The rolling, rugged landscape along the eastern flanks of the Gila Wilderness, located between the villages of Winston and Hillsboro, is one of the most beautiful and fascinating topographies in the world. It is a hiker’s paradise, a photographer’s dream and a painter’s palette. A short drive northeast of Silver City, this largely unspoiled natural setting is home to abundant wildlife and rich in biodiversity.
It is in this pristine setting that Travis Perry, President and Founder of Natural Curiosity, a non-profit conservation education organization, strives to take his passion, the Hermosa Project, to the next stage of crucial importance.
Hermosa was originally a mining town. Major floods in the 1890s and 1930s caused nearby mines to close and Hermosa eventually became a ghost town. The area was later used for cattle management by rancher AO Anderson, who also restored some of the remaining structures in the old town.
In 2005, Perry, in coordination with Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina, began using Hermosa as a “living classroom” for semester-long conservation education programs called “Wild Semester”. , as well as three-week programs in the field in the great outdoors. Dozens of students and teaching assistants have benefited from the experiential programs held at Hermosa. Knowledge gained through Hermosa “living-lab” programs has helped students follow successful career paths in conservation, including high-level jobs with the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, state game and fishery agencies. , non-profit conservation organizations and outdoor schools.
Today, the Hermosa project is at a crossroads. Perry was informed in 2021 that the owners of Hermosa, from whom Perry and Natural Curiosity leased the property, would put the property up for sale. Perry was able to negotiate a “last right of refusal” that would allow him time to raise funds to purchase the property, so the important education and conservation work could continue. Natural Curiosity has until November 30 to complete the purchase of Hermosa.
Recently, the author was able to sit down with Perry to learn more about Natural Curiosity, Hermosa, and the project’s significance to southwestern New Mexico.

Lloyd: Tell me a bit about yourself, your background and how you got involved in the Hermosa project.
Perry: I’m a professor of biology at Furman University, with a background in ecology and wildlife biology. I got my doctorate. at the University of New Mexico in 2000. That same year, I was conducting bat surveys for the US Forest Service at Ladder Ranch. I spent some time exploring Hermosa and decided that this amazing property would be an ideal location for a world-class environmental field school. It took five years of negotiations between Furman University, where I was teaching, and the owners to get permission to use the property. We launched our first “Wild Semester” in 2005.

Lloyd: What is the relationship between Natural Curiosity and the Hermosa project?
Perry: Natural Curiosity is the nonprofit that manages fundraising efforts and ongoing operations for the Hermosa Project. Natural Curiosity is governed by a Board of Directors who will oversee the purchase, improvements and ongoing programs at Hermosa.

Lloyd: What makes Hermosa so well suited for a center of conservation and wilderness learning?
Perry: Amazing biodiversity and vast expanses of wilderness make Hermosa an idyllic base for biological research. Hermosa is a gateway to the Aldo Leopold Wilderness and Gila National Forest, and its backyard is 3.3 million acres of national forest and wilderness, including over 700,000 acres of designated wilderness. Streams, trails, and nearby ecological diversity make Hermosa an incredible place for students to experience the natural world, where they can learn, see, and practice all kinds of conservation knowledge and skills in the backyard. -country.

Lloyd: What are your future plans for Hermosa if you are able to purchase the property?
Perry: The eight remaining structures in Old Town, including an 1880s hotel that now serves as a student dormitory, are perfect for a center of learning. Our plan is to renovate the historic buildings into a field station that offers and hosts year-round teaching and research programs from many organizations and institutions. We want to make this special place accessible to students and people of all ages and backgrounds, especially groups that are underrepresented in the conservation world.

Lloyd: What types of educational programs and wilderness experiences will be offered at Hermosa?
Perry: We plan to create a living lab program to teach skills that allow students to recreate and work for conservation in the backcountry, including wilderness first aid, orienteering, biological survey techniques and wilderness survival skills. We will also welcome external researchers to the establishment. We will operate the property as a sustainable land station that prioritizes good stewardship of the private and public lands around us.

Lloyd: How will the Hermosa project benefit Silver City and the people of the Gila region?
Perry: The Hermosa property will be an access point to the Aldo Leopold Wilderness and will provide recreational and educational opportunities for all residents. Natural Curiosity will use Hermosa as a base to improve trail conditions and public access. It’s no secret that the trails on the east side of the Aldo Leopold Wilderness need help. The Hermosa project and our planned conservation efforts will help improve this situation. The Hermosa project will bring together students, educators and researchers from around the world. This will help boost the economy and position Silver City and the region as an ecotourism destination.
Lloyd: What is your fundraising deadline and how can people help you?
Perry: We have until November 30 to raise enough funds to purchase the Hermosa property. We are asking for donations from Natural Curiosity for the purchase and renovation of Hermosa. Donations can be made through the Grant County Community Foundation at grantcountycommunityfoundation.org. Be sure to designate “Hermosa” in the donation comment field. We currently have over $65,000 available for matching funds, and I hope we will soon be able to raise the necessary donations to reach this matching goal. I should also note that there is an option for restricted pledges, which means donors will only fulfill their pledges when our purchase agreement with the current owners has ended.
I also invite those interested in the project to a fundraiser at Bear Mountain Lodge on November 3 from 5 to 7 p.m. Tickets, which will be available at the door, are $25 per person and will include appetizers. There will be a cash bar. I will talk about the project during this event. I hope others will see the value of my vision and help make the Hermosa project a reality!
For more information and to view a video about Natural Curiosity and the Hermosa Project, visit natural-curiosity.org/hermosa.
Lloyd Parker is a Silver City resident and board member of the Grant County Community Foundation, which was established in 2012 to help enrich lives through collective action in southwestern New Mexico.

Dino J. Dotson