BY KATHERINE BRUELL
PEEC Board of Directors & Staff
As the PEEC Board and Staff, we’re thrilled that Community Services is proposing new trails that will allow more people to enjoy and connect with nature. Mountain biking is an important and popular way for people to get outside these days, which is why we are on our second year of offering a youth mountain bike camp in the summer.
We are also committed to protecting nature, especially natural habitat for threatened and endangered species. And we are always concerned for people’s safety in the outdoors, and work hard to mitigate risk in our programming and activities.
Both of the proposed locations for the skills park and the 7-mile trail are directly adjacent to the nature center. These are areas where we send any out-of-town visitors who ask where they can access a trail or nature nearby to the nature center. As such, they are among the most frequently used trails by visitors to Los Alamos. Turning this area into a central location for mountain biking activities would impact the experience visitors have on our trails.
Further concerns about the proposed 7-mile trail location are:
- The area around the Ranch School Trail provides food and shelter for endangered Mexican Spotted Owls, and they would surely be disturbed by even light construction there and by heavier and faster trail use.
- This area is also home to 154 species of birds and is the second-highest diverse bird habitat in the county.
- Endangered Jemez Mountain Salamanders have been documented in this area (in 2010 by Chuck Hathcock, LANL). Again, salamander habitat would be disturbed with even light construction and heavier and faster trail use.
- This trail is an ice slick in the late fall, winter, and early spring months and is unsafe to walk on during those times except with spiked footgear. We believe it would not be safe to encourage biking there during those times.
- This is an historic trail, and even light construction may not be permitted.
- The first switchback on this trail is a very sharp turn, and is difficult for even experienced mountain bikers to make, with the consequences of missing it being a 50-foot drop into the canyon. Just the other day I watched a mountain biker who was about to descend this trail because I was curious as to how he would negotiate this turn. The answer is that he didn’t—he simply ignored the whole first section of trail and rode down a steep rock in such a way that he was positioned to meet the second section of trail head on. We certainly don’t want to encourage this kind of off-trail riding.
- Finally, PEEC frequently brings school groups on this trail, as it is the closest walkable area for us to take field trips from the nature center. A class of 25 children hiking down the trail is certainly not compatible with mountain bikers enjoying a fast descent. We don’t have other choices of trails to take children because they can’t walk farther from the nature center’s location.
As to the location of the skills park, we wonder why an undisturbed area, with difficult emergency access, which we use for field trips, summer camps, and afterschool clubs has been chosen for this construction project. We understand that the plans call for no trees to be cut in that area, but it’s evident from the pictures shown in various meetings that the environment will certainly be disturbed. Some safety and environmental considerations for this location include:
- It’s in an area that would be difficult for emergency medical personnel to quickly access in the case of an accident on the course.
- It is a currently undisturbed habitat, and skills park construction there will remove important understory like native gambel oaks and native grasses.
- It is a long distance from the parking area, so parents will have a ways to walk while carrying their children’s balance bikes.
- It is in a location currently used by children on PEEC field trips and in PEEC afterschool camps and clubs, setting up potential use conflicts when large groups are in the area.
We would love to see more trails that encourage more people to get outside in our beautiful natural areas in more ways. I hope we can find a location that will get people excited about these trails, rather than raising their worries about endangered species, habitat loss, and safety. While we cannot support the current proposed locations, we’d be happy to work with the county and their contractors to find the ideal location for these important amenities in our community.