MTB & Trails Proposal Recommendation To County Council

Los Alamos

My name is Clay Moseley and I have been a resident of Los Alamos County since December, 1998.  I would appreciate you taking the time to read this rather long email in its entirety.  I hope it helps to give you some insights and new perspectives, and to provide some understanding of the new developments with the trails/mountain biking proposal currently under consideration.

I’ll start with a little bit about myself:  in 1998 at the age of 27, I cut my “first career” short and retired from being a professional cyclist.  I had achieved a lot, but the sacrifices, means and methods that it took to be in such a sport changed my perspective and I realized it was time for a change.  After years of being on the US National Cycling Team, two different professional teams, two national championships titles, a gold medal in the 1995 Pan American Games (and missed Olympic team berth), and numerous wins on three continents, I decided I would let go and pursue a more traditional career, settling somewhere that offered both a good job and great outdoor opportunities.  Having grown up in New Mexico and being familiar with Los Alamos, I chose to make a home here.  I quickly found that I loved the environment and being able to do things right out my door.  I was also happy to be able to participate in some of the legendary and venerable events that had made Los Alamos quite famous in the endurance sports world.  Since then, I’ve focused on being actively involved with trail building and maintenance, and leading programs to get people outside and enjoying being active.  I coach youth mountain biking, trail running, and cross-country skiing through a mostly free program open to all-comers, youth and the youth at heart alike (only the competition-level kids pay fees for insurance and competition fees).  

When I first moved here, there was a much more robust retail economy.  There were three sporting goods stores with bike shops, and many other types of stores (most now long-gone).  There were also more sporting events, event organizers, and local people who participated in them.  Over the years, the few of us who have been around since that time have seen a major proportion of our like-minded friends sort-of move on to greener pastures as our situation has stagnated here in town.  Essentially, while Los Alamos has a lot going for it, no doubt, other places in the country are doing things that we have been slow to embrace.  The active, vibrant demographic that we have been promoting and have received credit for is not all that it’s cracked up to be.  In all honesty, other places are doing a lot better on that front.  What lies beneath is a reluctance to enhance active opportunities and promote a healthy lifestyle, and share with people from the “outside” world.  In my observation, we are living up here on our own island and are not very accommodating to outsiders, let alone subgroups of our active community.  I’ve seen our community become more introverted and isolated as we’ve lost those friends and people who were so good at promoting things and getting involved.  I understand that people are attached to the quiet nature and enjoy their quiet evening dog walks on the trails, while semi-tolerating the local mountain bikers that occasionally disrupt the peace, but we could find a compromise that enhances the opportunities and experiences for everyone.

I’ve personally tried to keep the ball rolling with several events and initiatives, but have found it increasingly difficult to do so.  I organized and promoted the Tour de Los Alamos for two years.  I have organized and promoted various types of mountain bike races, cyclocross races, winter-sport events, the Atomic Man Duathlon, and as a founding member of the Triatomics Multisport Club, the Splash’n Dash.  With so much to do now, I’ve narrowed my involvement to being the president of the Southwest Nordic Ski Club (SWNSC – a 501c3 organization), a position I’ve held since 2000.  With SWNSC, we maintain a special volunteer cost-share contract agreement with the USFS, which allows us to administer the trail system up at Canada Bonita, in addition to acting as an agent for all USFS trails in Los Alamos County for federal funding and special projects.  All recreation project money and project administration with the federal government flows through SWNSC.  This was especially important after the Las Conchas fire because we were able to apply for, and procure the funds, and to contract with licensed contractors to repair and restore USFS trails with the county.  We’ve managed many of the big projects to rebuild our most iconic trails:  Guaje Ridge, Water Canyon, Pajarito Canyon, Canon de Valle, etc.  It has been a gargantuan task that hardly anyone knows about or understands, and our group of volunteers has done it out of passion and love for all trails, for all people.  It means everything to me, personally, to see all of the families who go out together on weekend or evening hikes up at Canada Bonita to enjoy the flowers and wonderful environment that we have to offer.  Little do people know that it costs us a lot of money, as well as a lot of blood, sweat, and tears to keep the trails open.  In winter, it is even more special to provide a unique and safe venue for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.  We are constantly contacted by senior groups, church organizations, and schools from Santa Fe, Albuquerque, and even as far away as Texas and Oklahoma for information on what we have to offer here and how they can make plans to come for a visit and experience what we have to offer.  It’s amazing!

So now we come to this proposal to do *something* for enhancing mountain biking opportunities.  I’ll start by saying that to my knowledge, not a single County dollar has ever been spent on any project that is specific to mountain biking.  While I do not argue that mountain bikers have benefitted from all of the great County trail projects (thank you, Craig Martin!!!), to date there has not been a project that focuses on making anything better for mountain bikers around here.  Our trails continue to have that very “rough around the edges” aspect to them, and are not very mountain-biker friendly —  although we do work on them as much as we’re able.  As a result, Los Alamos has remained mostly off the map for most mountain biking enthusiasts in our state, and beyond.  Even many local mountain bikers seek other places to go ride on weekends or whenever we can ride a better trail.  For example, communities like Santa Fe, Taos, Angel Fire, Ruidoso, and even the Gallup/Aztec areas are investing in, and developing opportunities that attract destination mountain bikers.  The general consensus (one can join the New Mexico Mountain Bikers social media groups) is that Los Alamos is 1) a difficult place to ride a mountain bike with only a few good trails, and 2) not a very accommodating town.  Sure, we have the Pajarito Mountain bike park, but that has been built by local amateur enthusiasts by hand and is EXTREMELY high level and difficult.  Volunteers are working hard on the new, more friendly/blue-level “Aspenola flow trail” up there, but it’s still steep and chunky, and not at all something that makes it a place where a family would come to ride together. Thus, at the current pace of development up there, which is very slow because it’s done mostly by hand, it is not making much of an impact for us economically.  That’s not to say that we’re not still trying or do not have a plan, but this has to be a multi-front effort.

Some of you may be aware that I am an engineer here at Los Alamos County.  I work in the utilities department and manage some of the largest projects in Los Alamos County.  I have successfully delivered many projects for the County over the years and have navigated through many difficult situations, including very complicated NEPA processes and multi-agency coordination.  Full disclosure:  I did serve on the RFP evaluation committee for the consultant team that is currently under contract by the County CSD.  I was the lone dissenter on the committee and the chosen consultant team was not my first choice, but I do know that this is a very reputable and capable team, so I support their work with the County and this process.  However, I’m writing to you as a concerned citizen, and not really in any official County capacity.  I have no influence whatsoever in the decision making process, nor do I speak to the project team offline or at work in any way.  I only met with them in the beginning when we were discussing the project scope (more on that later).  I have my own hands full with DPU projects and I remain detached from “the other side of the County.”  But I have watched this process unfold with some frustration and have some opinions and observations that I’d like to share.  I can only imagine how much you all are being inundated with many letters with people’s opinions and everything else, so I hope to stick to just the nuts and bolts of this matter.  

My assessment of the current proposal for the mountain bike specific projects is not a 100% endorsement.  I do VERY MUCH want some local trail improvements that focus on making certain areas more bike-friendly and bike-fun, but the proposal as it is being presented needs some work.  I am not quite sure how these particular projects were identified, or how their scopes were developed.  When I first read the proposal, I was actually quite shocked. I was never consulted or had prior knowledge that these were actual proposals.  I’ve known all along that these would be a hard sell.  Speaking on behalf of almost ALL mountain bikers in the county, I know that we do not quite agree with some of the details in the proposal.  When we were meeting with the project team/consultants, I voiced my concerns about the proposed plans, and they agreed that some things would likely need to change to make the project more palatable for county residents to accept, and moreover, constructible.  This last point is very important — it’s one thing to plan and design all of this, but another to formulate a construction budget and put it out to bid… and yet another to actually get it built.  I think we need to temper expectations and find some acceptable alternatives through this current planning process.  I do believe that are some flaws in the plan — this is coming from a major mountain biking enthusiast, but also from a practical construction engineer.  However, the flaws in the proposal all have a few solutions that I think make the overall proposal more attractive to everyone.

If I were in your shoes as a decision-making body, I’d develop some sort of decision tree that answers questions such as:

  1. Does the proposal help the County (economic, well-being, etc.)?
  2. Will it be something that County citizens will appreciate and utilize?
  3. Will it be something that neighboring communities can share and appreciate?
  4. Will it be something that can be maintained and cost-efficient throughout its lifecycle?
  5. Are there multiple alternatives?  
  6. What are the advantages?  
  7. What are the disadvantages?
  8. Will the proposal be popular?  Who all benefits from the final outcome?
  9. What are the economic impacts?  
  10. What are the long-term environmental impacts (good/bad)?
  11. What are the impacts on other County resources and departments?

There are others, but these hit the highlights.  As far as the whole project proposal goes, I think it could focus on these issues and receive more community support:

  1. Skills park — put it in an already-developed location, such as the old Pueblo waste-water treatment site.  
  2. A skills park should have immediate drive access for EMS and for maintenance.  There is a water line already to the alternative site, but not to the location below the aquatic center
  3. The Pueblo Canyon 7 mile trail — it needs further study for alignment.  As proposed, it’s too complicated and frankly, not constructible.  It was also proposed to be overlaid with the old Ranch School trail, which is not acceptable to anyone.  Los Alamos should have one good, long, signature trail that flows downhill through one of our beautiful canyons, but the proposal as it stands is too crazy.  It can be modified to be more reasonable
  4. The “NICA” trail plan needs to be reviewed and reconsidered.  NICA is a corporate entity that has some very difficult specifications to meet.  Any sort of event/practice/race type loop for youth needs to be open for all youth and not focus on a corporate approach.  The NICA group here is very new and no one knows if it will be here forever.  While any program that focuses on getting kids out riding is a very welcome addition, with this being a public-money project it must be a very general approach and not focus on just one corporate group’s requirements.  There are other non-affiliated youth and adult mountain biking programs that can be included as well.  In other words, if this concept is included, the plan should be for a general “event” loop that serves any/all types of events or races.  USA Cycling also has youth mountain biking programs that local kids are involved with.  Blowing open previously undeveloped land for a purpose-built NICA facility has some fatal flaws that will be (already are?) controversial.  
  5. An event/practice/race type of loop can definitely be developed from already existing County trails that would need only a little bit of “clean-up” without a major construction effort, and could be utilized by all mountain bikers and other types of trail users as well (multi-use, multiple beneficiaries), with nearby shared event parking that would not need to be specially developed.  The event loop can also interweave and integrate with the skills park if it was located at the bottom of Olive St.  This would be a very cool design/approach.
  6. Enhancement of already existing trails – the trails we have are already pretty great, but they need some maintenance and general “clean-up” at a much lower cost and impact than building all new trails that will also need future maintenance.  It’s better to focus on some specific enhancement projects here and there, than to create brand new trails that people will be irritated with because they are “mountain bike specific”.  This is not a good plan and the local mtb community does not actually want this either.  But the trails we do have do need some work to be more rideable
  7. Create good connections to USFS trails — this is part of the “fixing/maintaining” what we already have plan
  8. Ensure we have competent County staff to oversee, manage, and maintain the trails
  9. Assign a focus group committee to identify appropriate locations and project scopes to help alleviate concerns and so much animosity toward mountain bike trail projects.  Include leadership people in the mountain bike community, as well as experts in trail construction and environmental assessment (perhaps 4-5 people total?)
  10. Improve communication and coordination from County staff to receive input from local users such that a successful involvement process can produce an acceptable compromise

Trails are ephemeral, and need constant maintenance.  We tend to love our trails to a point of neglect, and they quickly get into a state of disrepair.  Many of the local trails we utilize now were created or altered after the Cerro Grande Fire in 2000 and I can see how their condition has deteriorated over the years since we established, or re-established them.  They no longer resemble what they were like when we first put them in, but everyone is so afraid of “environmental impacts” that we simply do nothing to a fault.  One of the most sad situations is the old Lujan Rd trail going down Bayo Canyon.  Parts of it have eroded so badly in the last 20 years and the damage is accelerating, but since it’s historic, people think it shouldn’t be touched for maintenance (FWIW, there are no rules governing that, other than our own).  It does need repair/maintenance work or else it’ll eventually deteriorate to the point that it’ll be unrecognizable in places.  It’s sad to see its rapidly withering state.

Finally, I do not care for the whole County citizen petitioning thing, nor do other mountain biking advocates.  We feel like it devolves into ugly battle lines being drawn and nothing positive comes from it.  You will not see that sort of initiative or communication from the mountain bikers — this has been a point of consideration and discussion.  Nor will you see a lot of incessant letter writing; my long-winded letter here notwithstanding.  Only a few of us have committed to making contact with letters, and unfortunately not very many are hopeful of a successful outcome, gauging from what we see in the media and social media posts.  There are quite a lot of people in the mountain bike community who have become disheartened by past initiatives that failed and the negativity that all of this generates.  We feel as though this latest proposal has caused the situation to become even worse.  So, for every letter you receive, just know that there is also an active and expectant community of mountain biking citizens out there hoping that something positive will come out of this.

Again, I appreciate your attention and consideration, and apologize for such a long letter, but there are a lot of layers to the whole matter and this latest mountain bike programming proposal.  I think the proposal has merit and deserves some real action, but with a bit of a pivot in its course as it is currently headed.  I sincerely hope that we do see some improvements regarding mountain biking because there are so many wonderful benefits and this would make Los Alamos an even more awesome place to live.