Juarez Mountain message stirs controversy in El Paso

Conservationist urges hikers to avoid Juarez until message is removed

EL PASO, Texas - The controversy over the newest message to be painted on the Juarez mountains continues.

An El Paso conservationist is urging his fellow El Pasoans to keep out of Juarez until the message is removed.

"It's ugly. It's covering up a beautiful mountain," said Jim Tolbert, publisher of the online blog elpasonaturally. "It's destroying the flora and the fauna, an ecosystem. It's an environmental disaster. It's graffiti."

Wednesday, Tolbert used his blog to slam the church, La Luz del Mundo, which is responsible for the message. This week, the church's members painted the message, "50 anos apostol SJF" on the Juarez mountains. It's a celebration of the 50th year Samuel Joaquin Flores has led La Luz del Mundo.

"I think (the message) is terribly destructive of the environment. No matter what the message is," Tolbert said.

Tolbert is also a coordinator of the group Celebration of Our Mountains, a group that organizes group hikes in the region's natural habitats each fall. He said the group had been planning hikes in Juarez for the first time since the outbreak of violence in 2008, but is now stepping back from those plans.

"It's so discouraging to take people over there and celebrate our mountains when they're tagged with this graffiti," said Tolbert.

ABC-7 took Tolbert's concerns to El Paso's chapter of La Luz del Mundo pastor Eliseo Duran.

"It's a matter of opinions," Duran said in Spanish.

The pastor told ABC-7 his congregation didn't help paint the message, but it backs its fellow church members in Juarez and their work.

"My understanding is that the church did solicit permission (from the Juarez government)," said Duran. "The church does not do things just because."

The city of Juarez says the church didn't obtain permits to create the message.

Meanwhile, Tolbert said his feelings aren't just directed across the border.

"I think if we're going to ask someone else to remove letters from their mountain, i think we need to start with our own," said Tolbert, referring to the 'A' painted on the east face of the Franklin Mountains.

The 'A' is maintained by Austin High School's alumni association and student body and is on private property.

The Juarez government has said it would fine del Mundo 140,000 pesos, or $11,000, if the message isn't removed by next week.

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