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Bandelier proposes multiuse county path

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By Arin McKenna

Lucy Gent Foma, transportation scholar for Bandelier National Monument, presented a concept for a 30-mile regional multiuse path connecting Bandelier, Los Alamos, White Rock and the Santa Fe National Forest to the Transportation Board on Thursday.
The goal is to “provide a safe recreational area and multimodal path that connects White Rock, Los Alamos, Bandelier and Santa Fe National Forest for diverse groups, including young workers, ADA recipients and visitors.”
The initial study is funded by a grant from the National Park Foundation’s Transportation Scholars program.
Bandelier Superintendent Jason Lott has spearheaded the project to connect Bandelier to gateway communities via alternative transportation and “contribute to the vision of making Los Alamos a family recreation destination.” The concept has been discussed for at least two decades, but has never been put into play.
Gent Foma spoke about the need for such a trail.
“The area I’m talking about is already used by many cyclists…The unfortunate part about this is that Route 4 lacks shoulders, and that combined with the curvy nature of this road makes it a pretty dangerous route for both cyclists and for drivers,” Gent Foma said.
“We frequently get information at the visitor center about conflicts with bicyclists or being afraid that people have almost hit cyclists. Some of our staff has run into this problem themselves and cyclists in the area have expressed this as well.”
“This path would not only ameliorate that problem, but we’ve also come to see it as an opportunity for the area.”
Those working on the project believe it could spur economic development.
“We were part of a study recently that showed that of the hundreds of thousands of visitors that come to the area annually, most people just come to Bandelier and then they leave. So they spend a couple of hours here, and don’t visit any of the other sites or the museums or cultural sites besides Bandelier,” Gent Foma said.
“This could capture some of the Bandelier visitation. It would hopefully be a benefit both for the park and for Bandelier.”
The trail could also present an opportunity for historic tourism by using existing trailheads, adding wayside guides and having branches to other historic sites. It might also be utilized by cross-country skiers in the winter.
The proposed path would cross San Ildefonso and Department of Energy lands, as well as Los Alamos County and the Santa Fe National Forest. Access to San Ildefonso and DOE land presents the greatest obstacle.
“San Ildefonso’s primary concern is that despite their cooperation with the area in the past, they feel like the privilege they’ve given of allowing people on their land has been violated in some ways, because, unfortunately, visitors and locals have trespassed beyond the permitted use of the land, and they don’t want any further entry points into their property for more of that to happen,” Gent Foma said.
“For the Department of Energy, they’re concerned with security, so bringing more people into close contact, especially with their higher security locations is an issue. But just generally, they don’t want a lot of people taking photos and coming near their property.”
Gent Foma has met individually with those stakeholders and also on a regular basis through the LANL Trails Working Group.
Possibilities for surmounting obstacles include using the Department of Transportation right-of-way through San Ildefonso lands along NM 4, using service roads for power lines bisecting DOE property and proposing the path as a fire break for Los Alamos National Laboratory.
“So little by little, we’re trying to work out how this can work for everybody,” Gent Foma said.
Gent Foma also held a public meeting in October, which had approximately 30 participants, including many cyclists. The LANL Trails Working Group has created a pamphlet describing the vision for the trail and the opportunities it could offer.
Next steps include developing an Environmental Assessment, providing DOE with the initial findings in order to get approval for a feasibility study and developing a Memorandum of Understanding between the agencies involved.
“We want this to become a more solid project that we can move forward and start to get funding for the actual implementation instead of just planning, which hopefully can happen sooner rather than later, so it doesn’t get stuck in that planning mode of always in conceptual,” Gent Foma said.
Board Member Khalil Spencer asked about costs and funding.
Gent Foma responded that costs have not been estimated yet. The general formula is $250,000 per mile, but she believes that may apply more to municipal areas that may require land acquisition. Some sections proposed for this trail, such as a stretch through Los Alamos Canyon, could be relatively inexpensive, while others that involve building on steep grades could be considerably more.
Funding possibilities include a Federal Lands Access grant, although that program must be renewed by congress, programs that would fund connections between preexisting segments and contributions from the entities involved.
Spencer pointed out that many cyclists may not utilize a multiuse path, except for dangerous stretches along N.M. 4.
“Going downhill from Jemez Road to Bandelier, you can easily reach bicycle speeds in excess of 30 or 40 miles an hour. I think putting that category of bicyclist on a 10-foot wide multiuse path with casual bicyclists or walkers or infrequent users could be a recipe for disaster,” Spencer said.
“So I think this is a great idea. I think this is something the county and the parks should run with. I would not suggest that’s it’s going to be all things for all people, but I think it would be a wonderful resource for this region.”
Gent Foma responded that they are considering options such as separate trails for walkers and cyclists to address that issue. Board Chair Randall Ryti suggested that perhaps sections of the trail could be cyclists only, since walkers might use only segments of such a lengthy trail.
Board member Bethany King asked if it would be feasible to start building some stretches of the trail while working out issues with San Ildefonso and DOE. Gent Foma said that possibility is being considered, although it could be better to secure funding for the entire route in advance to insure that it is completed.
Gent Foma will be presenting the plan to the Parks and Recreation Board, tentatively in July.
In other business, the board reviewed the second phase of the transportation study. That is available in the T-Board’s June 5 agenda on the county website.
Acting Traffic Engineer Dan Erickson also made a presentation about what Department of Transportation criteria must be met in order to install traffic signals or crosswalks at intersections.
Bethany King reluctantly accepted a nomination to serve as vice chair and was elected unanimously.