Trails rise from the ashes

-A A +A

Volunteerism: Enthusiasts’ efforts net double benefits

By Arin McKenna

Hikers and cyclists who have ventured onto national forest trails surrounding Los Alamos have been pleasantly surprised.


County Open Space Specialist Craig Martin recounted a typical story.

“When we were working on the Water Canyon trail in September, two residents of White Rock walked up and said, ‘We thought we were just going to have to fight through everything to get to this point here. We got here and it was a trail. We were amazed.”

“So I think it’s just a matter of awareness. A lot of people don’t realize how much we’ve brought back over the summer, so they’re reluctant to go up there,” Martin said.

Española Ranger District Recreation Team Leader Lynn Bjorklund credits volunteers and Martin himself for approximately 18 miles of trail that have been rebuilt and repaired.

“He’s been super lead volunteer of the volunteers,” Bjorklund said. “He’s led 800-plus hours of volunteer work. And that’s been able to pay for contract work on the farther away trails.”

Funding for the contract work requires a 50 percent match in volunteer hours. Those 800 hours translated into $20,000 worth of work, bringing in an additional $40,000 in contract work.

“People care about the trails and they get out there and do what they need to do to make them useable for everybody,” Martin said.

Boy Scout Troop 129, led by an Eagle Scout candidate, took on one of the biggest challenges: Water Canyon.

Repairs to the Water Canyon trail following the Cerro Grande fire had barely been completed when flooding subsequent to the Las Conchas fire took it out again. Martin described the canyon floor as “boulders and rocks and gravel.”

The troop built a new trail above the floodplain. Volunteers went in afterward and completed restoration as far as the meadow. Finishing the trail remains a challenge.

“Only about a third of that trail has been restored so far. And that was the easy third, even though it was pretty tough,” Martin said. “So the challenge remains, and Lynn and I are scheming at how we put this trail back together in a way that’s even better than it was before.”

The National Forest Service also contracted with the Family YMCA’s Youth Conservation Corp for some of the more difficult work. Bjorklund described a typical rebuild.

In Canyon de Valle contractors brought in a trail dozer to build a “bench” into the hillside. When the slope became too steep and rocky for the dozer, the YCC crew took over and built another mile of trail. When summer floods did some minor damage to the trail (the basic structure remained intact) volunteers came in and “touched it up.”

“People see a trail but may not really appreciate how much effort went into it,” Bjorklund said. “The whole side slope is really rocky and hard to work with. You don’t cut trail there easily digging that rock. And the YCC hand cut that trail. It was a tremendous amount of work. We had a great group of kids who were very skilled and energetic and hard working.”

NFS and Los Alamos County have contracted with the YCC again next year for work on both national forest and county trails.

Although many of the trails still require significant work, major sections of most trails have been rebuilt. Canyon de Valle, Water Canyon, Pajarito Canyon, the Perimeter Trail, Guaje Canyon, Guaje Ridge and North Mitchell have all been at least partially restored.

“Over the summer, there weren’t many people out using the trails,” Martin said. “But since September, people have found that Valle Canyon and South Perimeter are just as good as they ever were, if not better. And they’re all just amazed that everything is in such good shape.”

Skiers will also appreciate the trail work done by Southwest Nordic Ski Club.

“They’ve been putting in a lot of volunteer hours and made some great improvements on the Nordic Ski trail,” Bjorklund said. “They had been flooded and the trail was no longer level and smooth for ski grooming, so they spent many hours reshaping that and putting up their snow fence. So all they need now is the snow.

“Again, people will go up there and see this great groomed course but never know the story behind what all it took to get it there. They put in an enormous amount of hours, mostly last year but then again this year in order to be able to ski.”

“I just really want to emphasize the appreciation of all the volunteer hours, and for them to realize what they accomplished with that $20,000 worth of work that folks have put in this summer,” Bjorklund said. “It’s a great team, all of Craig Martin’s volunteers that came out for the work days and his own time and his passion for trails. It’s just tremendous.”

Trail work stopped for the season when the ground froze last week, but Bjorklund and Martin will be looking for help in the spring to finish about 10 miles of trail. Those interested in volunteering can contact Jennifer Sublett, volunteer coordinator for the Española Ranger District at jasublett@fs.fed.gov or 505-753-7331.