Integrated Master Plan Should Be Delayed Until Trail And Open Space Shortcomings Are Resolved

Pajarito Conservation Board

Dear Editor:

The Pajarito Conservation Alliance is concerned about the draft Integrated Master Plan (IMP) that is scheduled for consideration by the County Council on Tuesday, March 28.

Our comments are solely about how open space and trail management are addressed in the draft IMP’s assessments and recommendations. We do not have comments about the developed facilities and programs that comprise the primary focus of the IMP.

Our overriding concern is that the IMP does not acknowledge the Los Alamos County Trail Management Plan documents that were first adopted by the County Council in 2009 and were extensively updated in 2012. As a result, the draft IMP also does not include the assessment results and recommendations from those very thorough documents. Although the omission of these documents was an unintentional oversight by Community Services Department (CSD) staff, it nonetheless has created considerable unease in the community about what the County has in mind for our undeveloped open space and trails, for now and in the foreseeable future.

The trail management documents that were excluded from the draft IMP include a County Trail Policy Plan, Proposed Additions to the County Trail Network, Trail Assessments and Maintenance Needs, County Trail Standards, and a Trail Signage Plan.  These documents were developed in-house with extensive public involvement, including interactive workshops in which all trail user groups were represented. Individuals at these workshops identified and voted on prioritization of trail needs.

Consequently, because these documents were not used to inform the IMP, we recommend in the strongest terms that the County Council should not adopt the draft IMP until it decides how its shortcomings should be resolved with respect to management of County trails and open space. For the following reasons, we think County management should treat these unique assets not as a CSD “recreational facility” to be managed, but rather as a defining and integral feature of the Los Alamos community with a complex history and uncertain future.

1. Our open spaces and extensive trail network provide an unwritten centuries-old record of human interaction with local resources, beginning with ancestral Puebloans and Spanish explorers, and continuing through more recent times with homesteaders, trails from the Ranch School days, extensive open space and trail restoration following two horrendous wildfires, and now evolving to accommodate changes in today’s types of uses.

2. Open space management needs to address a uniquely broad suite of challenges that are markedly unlike those faced by any CSD facility, e.g., protection of cultural and natural resources, wildlife protection and management, removal of feral cattle and other invasive species, mitigation of wildfire hazards, preparation for the effects of climate change on native vegetation, protection of vistas and landscape buffers.

3. Open space and trail management needs also transcend jurisdictional and departmental boundaries, requiring close cooperation not only with adjacent landowners but also with nearly the full suite of County departments, boards and commissions in one capacity or another.

In our opinion, the ideal outcome would be for all assessments and recommendations related to open space, trails, and trailheads to be removed from the draft IMP for developed CSD facilities and put into a separate Integrated Master Plan for undeveloped CSD assets. It would be an appropriate goal to work towards broadening participation in this proposed new IMP to include adjacent jurisdictions. We believe this action would also improve the community’s perception of County management regarding transparency, commitment to protection of open space, and commitment to act in accordance with the long-standing values of the local community.