North Mesa Housing Study Impact On Youth Sport Venue

Los Alamos Middle School Cross Country Trail. Courtesy photo


As of October 2020, the Los Alamos Middle School cross country teams training and competition venue has been the subject of a study for a proposed affordable housing site.  The project-site aerial photo included in the report shows the course trails clearly visible, and as the only sport venue entirely encompassed within the housing project boundary. The ‘North Mesa Housing Study’ completely omits the impact to the school sponsored sport of cross country that would occur.  An alternative similar venue for the sport will be necessary if this venue is lost.  To take it away, leaving no place for teams to train or compete, undermines the value of the sport in our community.  It is recommended that the Los Alamos Public Schools Board and Los Alamos County Council recommit the level of support for the sport demonstrated when construction of the current course was approved and completed in 2011, by including a modified version course on a portion of the same parcel of land as part of the housing project agreement.

The existing cross country course was designed and constructed in 2011 after gaining approval from the Los Alamos School Board.  It was the Eagle Scout Project of Steven Calhoun (LAHS 2015) and I imagine construction took many many hours of hard labor.  The agreement was Calhoun would construct the course and the school district would maintain it. A dedication plaque, along with his hand-carved map of the trails, is located on the west side of the course.  In the housing proposal photos of the course are labeled “informal trails”, which is false and misleading to the community.  The trail was originally two loops of one mile each, overlapping in a few sections, and is at least 6 feet wide at all times. Unfortunately in the past two years it has been damaged in large segments by Los Alamos County workers using it as a heavy equipment training area (substantial earth moving), and more recently a land lease to local landscaping companies to store piles of materials.  Additionally, the school district has not held up on its agreement to keep it maintained.  Maintenance in 2021 was undertaken by a generous volunteer contractor. 

In 2011, statements were made by the members of the community and the school board in support of the team needing a location to train and hold competitions.  Those same arguments still hold true today and have already been presented and gained school board support.  The current school board must recognize that fact and not overlook this important potential impact.

Without an alternative venue considered as part of the North Mesa Housing Proposal, the sport of cross country will be negatively impacted to a great degree.  Cross country is a sport conducted on natural surfaces and training for performance is designed using scientific principles of specificity.  The current course has been an ideal location for our teams race-specific training workouts as well as for hosting races.  The proximity to the campus is also optimal for middle school students to not require transportation.  It is currently being used several times a week for speed workouts, as well as for hosting 7 middle schools on Wednesday September 29 for a home meet, and again on Oct. 15.   

Cross country is a very popular sport at the middle school carrying a roster of 60-75 girl and boy athletes every single year.  It has great support in the community and is arguably the most successful middle school cross country program in Northern New Mexico year after year.  As a non-cut sport, cross country also serves to provide a scholastic team experience for many less competitive runners who are just as valued by the programs.  The middle school program feeds the high school program, one of the district’s most successful sports teams in terms of state championships, and a perennial top cross country team in the state.  For these reasons the sport has been valued in the community and the need for the same resources as other sports, including a suitable training venue to conduct practices, should be considered.  There are soccer and baseball fields on North Mesa but only the cross country venue has been included within the proposed housing boundary for removal with no alternative venue under discussion.  In the proposal there are numerous references to a “connector path” from the middle school to the baseball fields being described as a “priority” for any final design, but not one mention of the needs of the cross country teams.  If the community is to continue to support the sport of cross country it is important to consider this in the form of a practice and competition venue suitable for its needs and in an equitable manner to those of other sports, i.e. with greater priority than a connector path.

No one would expect any other high-participation competitive sport in Los Alamos to not have a practice/competition venue that meets sport standards.  The athletes who participate in cross country need the support that had been given in 2011 to be maintained, they need a basic training and competition venue like athletes in every sport.  If it is thought that no impact to our school cross country teams would occur, the reason might be the lack of knowledge of the history and current usage of this parcel of land.  My hope is this information will remedy that.

Kay Ulrich
Co-Head Coach Boys and Girls Cross Country, 6th Season
Los Alamos Middle School