Trail plan ready for review

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By Arin McKenna

In recent meetings about “branding” Los Alamos, the county’s trail system was mentioned repeatedly and passionately as an asset. 

With approximately 60 miles of formal trails and 40 miles of informal trails, the system is double the size of Santa Fe’s and far beyond the scope of most communities.

However, the system has some noticeable weaknesses, such as a lack of signage and poor connectivity. In the first step toward correcting some of those flaws, the county’s Parks Division retained the Trail Solutions program of the International Mountain Bike Association to assess the network and develop a Community Trail Plan.

Trail Solutions visited Los Alamos in December to travel the trails and meet with eight focus groups representing hikers, runners, bicyclists, equestrians, businesses, neighborhoods, and other interested groups. 

The plan evaluates the current conditions and layout of the network, and makes recommendations for specific projects to improve not only individual trails but also the organization of the entire network.  

The 42-page report (accessible through the county’s Open Forum link at losalamosnm.us) notes that “Navigation of the trail system requires familiarity and a high level of skill. Novice and new users will have difficulty navigating easily around the system and piecing together an enjoyable trail-based recreational experience.” 

Open Space Specialist Craig Martin frequently hears that complaint from trail users, and several comments on the Open Forum voice the same concern. One comment reads:

“In order to get people out into nature and onto the trail, there needs to be lots of trail marking done. Most of the time, our family hikes the few hikes we know, so we don’t get lost. Or my husband takes his GPS with Open Street Map data on it. We have been living in LAC for year, and have been on quite a few hikes where we got lost or at least walked off trail for a while. 

“In contrast, we have been hiking in the Alps and other European places a lot, and I have been lost less often in 30 years than in a year here. Everything is well marked, and many trailheads have a little map, so you get an idea where the trail leads.”

There is some resistance to increased signage and improving the trail system. There are rumors that some people remove signage on trails. One responder on the Open Forum expressed a fear the trails would be “sanitized …in the name of access and safety.”

Martin insists that is not the goal.

“The trails solutions guys definitely said, you’ve got intermediate and difficult trails like crazy, but the easy side is the weak link,” Martin said. “The intent is to expand the opportunities and not narrow it down. We have to accommodate all users.”

The Trails Solution plan suggests more than 25 specific projects that would enhance the network, ranging from network-wide improvements such as upgraded signage to specific maintenance projects, such as consolidating the trails in Graduation Canyon. 

The goal of those changes are summarized as: 

1) Create a shared-use single-track trail system that appeals to a wide spectrum of abilities: from families and beginners to the users with advanced skills and fitness. System should provide the quality and quantity of experiences to raise it to the level of being regionally significant trail destination.

2) Create a trail system that is environmentally and socially sustainable. And one that best highlights the natural beauty of Los Alamos.

3) Create a trail system that better interacts with existing park infrastructure and adjacent residential communities.

4) Create a trail system that can be improved and enhanced based on a reasonable time line and budget (including a phased development approach)

Martin has developed some practical objectives for implementing the plan. 

• Improved signage

• Develop some easier trails

• Connectivity between residential areas and downtown or places of employment for commuters 

• Create a bike park as a hub for developing skills and providing access to the trail system.

• Increasing connectivity to the National Forest trail system to attract mountain bikers and serious hikers. 

Martin estimates it will take 10 years to implement the plan, so he is asking residents for input on where to start, both through the Open Forum and in a meeting this upcoming Wednesday.

“Part of the purpose of the public meetings is to see what people think are the priorities. Getting input on prioritization will let me decide, if funding is a little freer next year, then where should that go?” Martin said.

Martin will analyze the feedback to decide which projects should be implemented, which should not and how to prioritize the project. 

Martin is also looking for suggestions on a signage solution that helps way finding without being obtrusive. Many people have suggested including QR (Quick Response) codes on the signage. 

Other suggestions include more trails in White Rock, camping options and zip lines into the canyons.

Once the list is prioritized, Martin hopes to begin some of the trail work this summer with the help of volunteers and the YMCA’s Youth Conservation Corp. 

With the county’s budgetary crunch, Martin is exploring creative ways to fund the projects, such as partnering with businesses to fund signage. Some elements, such as the bike park and commuter connection routes, are eligible for grant funding. 

If the Open Forum is any indication, the plan is likely to engender community support. One respondent wrote, “I whole heartily support making our trail system more connected and more logical. Unlike many of the counties tourism/branding efforts, this one really will bring more visitors to our town and will improve the quality of life for locals as well. It’s a win-win if I ever saw one.”

The trail plan meeting is scheduled from 5:30-7 p.m. May 8 at Fuller Lodge. Comments may be posted on Open Forum through May 17.