Keep Our Canyons Wild: Proposed County Trail Projects Need Revision

Los Alamos

Los Alamos residents are so lucky. With a few minutes walk or ride from anywhere in town we can be  in a natural environment that most people have to drive hundreds or thousands of miles to experience. It is important that we maintain these wild areas. The County is in the planning process for five trail  projects, four of which are geared toward mountain bike riders. You can view these projects at .

My recent letter  in the Daily Post addressed issues with the way the County handles such proposals. I have serious concerns about the impact of these  proposals on our canyons. If you do as well, you should attend the public meetings on these projects.

Community Services Director Cory Styron, in his response to recent letters regarding these projects, states that Pueblo Canyon is  “the only identified location to implement the requested mountain biking improvements”. I hope to  show in this letter that there are other alternatives for these projects. He also remarks that biking is a  “passive activity”, which may be true when practiced by individual bikers, but environmental  destruction for mountain biking facilities is not passive. 

To put my remarks in context, I have lived in Los Alamos 23 years, but frequent visits to local family  prior to that means over 50 years of hiking and biking LA trails. My home backs on the Homestead Crossing trail and I am on the LA trails most days of the year. I’d describe my trail riding skills as a  middling intermediate, but have ridden nearly all the LA trails (barring Ranch School Trail, which I only walk) and walked all of the official trails in the Pueblo/Walnut/Acid Canyons where these projects  are proposed. When biking, if I come upon a natural feature beyond my skill level, I dismount and  push/carry my bike. I don’t expect the County to come and bulldoze the trail just so I don’t have to get  off my bike. The challenge of working up to these features is part of the fun. 

Trail projects and use should be guided by some important principles. 1. Damage to the environment  should be avoided as much as possible. 2. The Comprehensive Plan of 2016 should be followed. It is  supported by a huge proportion of residents, and designates Pueblo Canyon and its tributary canyons as  Open Space-Passive, which precludes development projects such as the proposed skill park and the  NICA race course. 3. The trail network in Los Alamos has always been, and should remain, a multi-user network. For this reason, the County’s work in the canyons should be driven, not by special-interest  groups, but by maintaining the trails for the wide variety of users. 4. Users should use proper trail  etiquette in sharing the trails. On the trails, horses have right-of-way over all other trail users, and  hikers/pedestrians have right-of-way over cyclists. 

I would personally support four of the five projects providing that some locations and routing were  changed, and that instead of promoting these trails for biking, they would be promoted for multi-use.  Here are my issues with these proposals in order of increasing damage to the environment. 

Equestrian Trail 

This appears to be the kind of maintenance and repair to existing trails below the stables in Bayo Canyon that should be taking place on the entire trail network every year, so I have no problems with  this project provided the trails remain multi-use. 

Connector Trail and 7-Mile Trail 

These proposals link existing trails into “new” trails, and do not involve major trail-building or  modifications. Designating routes as connectors or longer trails is a great idea for all trail users, not just bikers, but that can be done by some signage and publication of guides, apps, and trail-head kiosk  information. Promoting these as bicycle trails rather than multi-use encourages bicyclists to think of  them as “their” trail and expecting other trail users to get out of their way. 

The Connector Trail route is already used by a lot of people to cross the canyon. I don’t have serious  issues with the proposal, but some rerouting would keep it closer to Green/Blue (novice/intermediate)  riding ability and make it safer for interactions between bikers and other trail users.  -The half-mile of Walnut Canyon Rim Trail between the upper gate on Pueblo Canyon Road and San  Ildefonso is particularly technical. This could be avoided by using the golf course maintenance road,  which parallels the trail. The golf course folks would probably fuss about this for “safety reasons”, but  the maintenance road skirts the edges of the course and bicyclists would be safer than the golfers since  we wear helmets.  

-Nothing practical can be done about the steepness of the hill leading up to/down from the golf course,  but less-skilled bikers can dismount and walk if they find it too steep. The upper gate could be modified to allow bikers to pass through more easily.  

-The part of the route on the south bench of Pueblo Canyon should use the old routing of South Pueblo  Bench Trail (the old road) instead of the newer routing along the rim. This is a wider and safer route  than the single-track rim trail, which gets pretty close to the canyon drop-off in one place.  These suggestions are shown in orange on the map detail in Illustration 1.  

Illustration 2: Acid Canyon and the  Ranch School Trail, Proposed Route for the 7- Mile Trail.

Illustration 1: Connector Trail Possible Alternate Route. 

The 7-Mile Trail has far more serious problems: 

-Uses Ranch School Trail (RST) and proposes “widening” to make it better for biking. RST is a listed  historic trail and should not be modified. 

-RST has potentially fatal drop-offs, sharp switchbacks, and is narrow. Biking should be discouraged,  not encouraged. There is no way it will ever be a Green/Blue bicycling trail. Those who dream of an  easy trail to the canyon bottom need to realize that because of the amount of elevation drop in a  relatively short distance, the only way to achieve this would be to blast and bulldoze a ledge-style road  into the cliffs and canyon walls. 

-RST passes through protected spotted-owl habitat and is adjacent to PEEC where they take kids and  adults to introduce them to nature in one of our most beautiful canyon bottoms (Illustration 2).  -It makes no sense to use RST when there is a better alternate route without the environmental issues  via the Pueblo Canyon Bench trails and Pueblo Canyon Road to the canyon bottom (Illustration 3 and  4). This route is 0.85 miles longer than the County route. It uses mostly old roads which are wider and  easier to ride for a Green/Blue trail and safer for biker/hiker meetings. The only difficult part is the  bottom 50-75 yards of the road into the canyon which is steep and has a washed-out surface covered  with loose rock and gravel. I’ve made this trip several times and I walk my bike down the worst parts.  The road could be made safer for all trail users, as well as utility and emergency access, if the County  would simply maintain it with fill and grading. With that improvement most intermediate riders with  good brakes could safely ride down. 

Illustration 3: 7-Mile Trail Possible Alternate  Route. 

Illustration 4: Looking Down Pueblo Canyon  Road from the Lower Gate.

Skills Park 

This could be a great idea if it were properly done and maintained in a different location from the two  proposed sites. I don’t have kids, but have always supported schools, programs and facilities that  promote the health, happiness and education of kids since they are our future. In our community,  teaching kids trail riding skills is a good idea, as long as they are also taught appreciation and respect  for the environment and for others on the trail. Encouraging the use of multi-use trails as a “thrill ride”  or race course results in problems on the trail. 

Problems with the proposed sites are: 

-They both violate the Comprehensive Plan, involve extensive environmental damage and are not a  passive use of the canyon. 

-The Acid Canyon site is a beautiful forest glade (Illustration 5) used by PEEC for education and local  residents as a place to spend quiet time in the woods without having to hike far. -Both sites are down steep hills on old roads that would be beyond young kids’ riding skills, so parents  would have to push or carry equipment to the skills park.  

-Both sites are out of direct line-of-sight of any trafficked area and so lack supervision. The fate of the  old skateboard park off Canyon Road shows the result of this issue. 

-Difficult emergency access and no nearby rest rooms. 

-Placing the skills park in the canyon makes no sense when there are several sites in existing county  parks or developed areas that could be used without the environmental damage . They offer rest rooms,  easy access, parking and cheaper construction costs. For an example of one of these alternate sites and  more on what I think makes a good skills park site and why the proposed sites are not suitable see: %20site.pdf?dl=0 

Illustration 5: Proposed Site for The Skills Park Kinnikinnik Park. 

Illustration 6: Piñon/Juniper Forest at the proposed NICA Site. This would become a  parking lot.

NICA Race Course 

This proposes 700 parking places, 72 campsites, plus staging areas for mountain bike races and new  trail construction with a looped & bridged crossing at the bottom of Pueblo Canyon straddling the  sewage plant road and a 6-mile plus racing trail using Tent Rocks Trail and other existing multi-use  trails. 

Unfortunately, this is a project that I could never support, no matter how it might be tweaked. While I  support projects for kids, this one is way out of proportion for what I suspect are relatively few kids,  and ones that come from well-to-do families at that. I find the hypocrisy of the County hard to believe  when they propose an expensive project with huge damage to the environment for the benefit of a few  kids and then turn around and charge the Little League and other youth athletic groups that serve large  numbers of kids tens of thousands of dollars to use already existing facilities. 

Problems include: 

-Destruction of a large area that is all beautiful pinon/juniper forest now (Illustration 6). We lost enough trees in the 2000 fire. I don’t think we need to be cutting down more. Styron claims there would be no  “permanent infrastructure”. Bulldozing parking lots from forest is definitely permanent. This area is  directly below Anderson Overlook, and the scar from the parking lots and facilities would be one of the first things visitors would see. 

-Encourages racing, adrenaline-fueled attitudes on multi-use trails. Adrenalin tunnel vision makes riders see other trail users not as people to interact with in a friendly way, but as obstacles in the way of their  progress.  

-Would likely only be used for events a couple of times a year.  

-Has poor justification from an economic standpoint and high construction costs.  

There’s a good argument that the County should not be involved in this project at all, but if they wished  to, it should be done with a public-private partnership with Pajarito Ski Area, which has the facilities  for hosting such events. I wouldn’t object too strenuously if that happened since I would like to see  Pajarito succeed as a four-season facility and event center. 

What The County SHOULD Be Doing For Our Trails 

-Give our open space folks enough personnel and funds to keep up with regular maintenance, repair and wind-fall clearing of the existing trails.  

-Maintain and repair our existing pedestrian bridges. 

-Institute a comprehensive trail identification signage for the entire trail system. This facilitates new  users of the trails and encourages trail users to stay on the official trails, reducing damage to the  environment due to “braiding” of trails. 

-Develop a comprehensive trail guide with maps and apps and revitalize the kiosks at trail-heads with  routes that link existing trails into longer distances and are graded as to difficulty for all types of users. -Promote ALL of our trails as multi-use trails, not for specific groups of users. 

-Forget about damaging development projects. 

To quote pioneering forestry scientist Suzane Simard: “We need to shift away from a detached,  exploitive relationship with nature toward one that is close, protective, and regenerative.”