Los Alamos Trails Deserve A Higher Standard

Los Alamos

I enjoyed Stephanie Nakhleh’s excellent letter on maintaining our trail systems and I wanted to echo her sentiments about the current state of things.  As the President of the Tuff Riders Mountain Bike club, I’ve been involved in trail maintenance in Los Alamos and also in the surrounding National Forest for a little more than 10 years, and our club has been building and maintaining trails since long before I was a member.  Everything changed for us in 2020 when much smaller volunteer turnouts collided with COVID regulations for volunteer programs.  It has been a long time coming – it’s always been difficult to convince people to give up a free weekend to fix a trail that is in many ways beyond our ability to repair.

Maintaining trails in Los Alamos is hard work.  Cutting through volcanic tuff, rock, and caliche clay with basic handtools and a limited number of volunteers makes for extremely unfulfilling work.  As much as I love our trail network, the simple fact is that many Los Alamos trails are not built to current trail standards for any user group.  I have spent many frustrating hours repairing the same section of trail that washes out every year.  Some of our trails are built at too steep of a grade, many have no side slope to gently shed the water downhill, and others are so trough-like that there is no way to get the water off of them for hundreds of feet.  When it rains these trails turn into rivers and waterfalls that cut even deeper into the trail bed, perpetuating the issue and creating hazards for all trail users.  Add in the fall overgrowth of weeds and locusts and you have a major undertaking to keep our trails user-friendly.

Which brings me to my point: maintaining our trails is a full-time job.  SEVERAL full-time jobs.  I was fortunate to move to Los Alamos at a time when Craig Martin was charged with these duties, and I was always impressed with the enthusiasm and care he showed for maintaining our trails.  Since Craig’s retirement, I feel that the county has lapsed on the basics of trail building and maintenance, choosing instead to focus on other priorities.  While I know cattle removal is important, the reality is that I’m more likely to break an ankle while running on a rutted-out and overgrown trail than I am to meet my demise from an excitable bull.

Los Alamos County has relied on volunteers to maintain their trails for too long, and it’s time to fund them like the asset that they are.  More to my point, many of the trails are simply beyond the ability of volunteers with hand tools to repair.  Large sections of our trails need to be repaired with a trail machine, which the county already owns and has yet to use.  Some sections of our trails simply need to be closed and re-routed, which is something only the county can authorize.  And that’s to say nothing of the dozens of hours that must be spent clearing the trails of weeds and other overgrowth if they are to continue to be usable year after year. 

Los Alamos trails and the USFS trails surrounding us are a major asset to Los Alamos residents and visitors alike.  It’s time for Los Alamos County to “put its money where its mouth is” and develop a trail maintenance program that is staffed appropriately with people who are passionate about maintaining our trail system.  The county already owns the tools and equipment to maintain these trails, and a few more employees is surely not going to break the budget, especially when compared to the funding levels that other county resources see.  We hold all of our commercial and residential spaces to a standard — why not our trails?