This year is ending strong with the unveiling of a brand new national park. White Sands National Monument in New Mexico has just been officially designated as a national park. White Sands is the largest dune field in the world, and was first named a national monument in 1933. Since then, it’s proven to be the most popular National Parks Service (NPS) site in New Mexico.

The new designation means that the 275-square-mile dunes, which previously served as a US military weapons testing area, will now be free from such tests, so visitors can hike the dunes in peace. As part of the new legislation, the military was awarded 2,826 acres of land within the monument’s former boundaries for missile testing, and the NPS was given 5,766 acres of formerly military-owned land. This means the park is expanding by 2,030 acres, and your visit won’t be interrupted by testing drills.

The already popular site should also expect a bump in visitor numbers. According to a 2018 study by Headwaters Economics, turning monuments into national parks can increase visitation by as much as 21 percent in the first five years, and bring in $7.5 million to the local economy.

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