People who plan to make the annual Mount Cristo Rey hike in El Paso, Texas, on Good Friday should bring some cash.
This year, there will be a $5 cost per vehicle in any of three lower parking lots off McNutt Road. Those parking lots are owned by Insights El Paso Science Museum and were donated by Stanley Jobe.
The parking lots close to the mountain, owned by the Catholic Diocese of Las Cruces, are still free. But people should go early to take advantage of those spaces.
Aaron Velasco, president of the Insights board of directors, said he hopes the public understands that the fee is for a good cause.
"The reason why we are charging is that (Jobe) donated some land with some pretty spectacular dinosaur tracks. But the issue we have is that nothing is
being done to preserve the tracks. So we're trying to generate funds to preserve them, first of all. And then long term, we'd like to build a nature center out there," he said.
The 210-acre site along the side of Mount Cristo Rey contains thousands of dinosaur fossils, which were discovered about 10 years ago.
"This is an asset for the whole community, and we would be remiss to not preserve it," Velasco said.
Velasco added that the museum is a private, nonprofit organization.
"We are short on funds like everyone else but want to be very proactive to seek funds," he said. "We're hoping the community can be open to that."
Velasco said there will be a passenger van to take elderly and people with special needs from the base of Cristo
Rey to the Insights parking lots. "We don't just want to take away but add a little bit," he said.
Ruben Escandon, Jr., vice president and public relations director of the Mount Cristo Rey Restoration Committee, said he expects people to be hesitant about the fee.
"People are used to going up for free. e and our donations will suffer. When we put a bucket in front of them, people are offended that they have to give. They don't understand we pay for gas, security equipment, upkeep," he said.
Escandon Jr. said the Mount Cristo Rey Restoration Committee usually collects about $3,000 from the 18,000 to 20,000 people who climb the mountain in October.
"And that's not even half of the number of people that go up there," he said.
Escandon is also concerned about the amount of traffic and logistics of charging at the entrance.
"There's only one entrance, so that might be a bigger issue," he said.
The Good Friday hike is the second-largest hike that occurs at Mount Cristo Rey. Last year, about 8,000 people attended.
Many church groups make the pilgrimage, praying the Way of the Cross as they ascend; others hike for recreational reasons.
El Pasoan Esmeralda Quintana was surprised to learn that there will be charges for some of the parking areas. She made a pilgrimage with members of her church, St. Pius X Catholic Church, on March 31.
"I think it's OK if they are going to charge. But I think they should give some of the proceeds to the Mount Cristo Rey Restoration Committee. They are really nice men, giving out water and giving rides to people that need it," she said.
"And the cross is the only reason people go," she added.
Maria Cortes Gonzalez may be reached at [email protected]; 546-6150.
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