Popular Passport program returns

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By Bennett Horne

Usually if someone tells someone else to “take a hike” it’s not a good thing. And they’re certainly not going to give a prize to the other person for following their suggestion.

But when the Pajarito Environmental Education Center invites someone to take a hike it’s definitely meant in a good way, and there are even prizes given out to encourage people to hit the trails.

PEEC, located at the Los Alamos Nature Center, loves to get people out on the many area trails so much, it developed its Passport to the Pajarito Plateau Program. The program launched on Earth Day 2016.

Since then, over 10,000 hikes have been reported back to PEEC through the program, which is free to participants, with over 200 hikers finishing the hikes covered in the passports, of which there are now two.

“The first passport came out two Earth Days ago and then the newer one came out last year on Earth Day,” said PEEC Executive Director Katy Bruell. “We won’t be rolling out a third one this year on Earth Day. We may at some point, but right now we’re still exploring funding for that.”

Bruell said the passports – and prizes given for reaching various numbers of hikes completed – cost approximately $20,000, the majority of which covers the prizes.

“When we started we really wanted the prizes to be something you could use on your next adventure outdoors, something that would inspire you to keep going back outside so that you could use the prize,” Bruell said. “We wanted the prizes on the higher end – the ones you get for doing eight or 12 hikes – to be really good, high-quality tools that people could really use.”

The prizes range from a tool that includes a whistle, compass and signal mirror to a multi-purpose knife and a bandanna featuring area trails of Los Alamos.

“We actually think (the quality of prizes) is what’s inspired a lot of adults to participate,” said Bruell. “We really thought maybe it would just be a program for kids but many adults participate. I think they’re especially drawn in by the quality, usefulness and uniqueness of the prizes. For instance, on the first passport the prize for 12 hikes was a bandanna with all the trails in Los Alamos printed on it and you can’t get that anywhere else or in any other way than by doing those 12 hikes. I think people are really motivated by that.”

Hikers also receive patches through various stages of the program.

“The patches you get for doing all the trails are original designs and they’re pretty neat,” said Bruell.

Individuals can pick up passports at the Nature Center and Los Alamos Visitors Center. Bruell said there might also be some at the Los Alamos Aquatic Center as well as Bandelier National Monument and Valles Caldera National Preserve and the Visitors Center in White Rock.

Besides the passports, individuals are given a small cloth bag in which to carry the passport, and a crayon, which is to be used to make rubs from trail markers in the passports.

The hikers can then take their passport to the Nature Center to get credit for completing the hikes and receive their prizes.

Clifford Fell, 10, and his sister, Emily, 7, both of White Rock, completed their first two hikes earlier this month and were in the Nature Center last week with their mom, Share, receiving their first prizes.

“It was really fun,” said Clifford, who added that his goal is to complete all 32 trails from the two passports.

“Yeah, and we saw a woodpecker,” Emily reported.

Bruell is not just the director for PEEC, she’s also a passport program participant.

“I’ve completed passport one and I haven’t completed the second passport yet,” she said. “I like to go running with my dog and she can’t do the ones in Bandelier, so if I want to do those trails I have to sneak out of the house and not let her see that I have my running stuff with me.”

Bruell said the feedback from the public over the passport program has been positive and runs the gamut.

“The feedback we get from people who have done it is really great,” Bruell said. “Parents with really young children will tell us, ‘Wow, I never could get my kids to hike before and they’re so motivated now. They’re like running on the trail, looking for the rubbings, having a great time and begging to go hiking again.’ Some people have said, ‘Well, I knew we had trails and I’ve been on some, but I’d never gone on some of these trails. This really encouraged me to get out and explore and see new trails.’”

She said many positive responses have come from older residents who have seen their health improve by walking the passport’s trails.

“Older people will tell us, ‘I kind of stopped exercising a little bit and my health was getting worse, and this really motivated me to go out and start exercising again,’” said Bruell. “One woman told us, ‘My doctor said I could go off my medication now after starting with the passports.’”

Bruell added, “We here love the trails in this town so much that it’s great that more people know all the different ones that we have.”

She said a couple of the trails are missing the rubbing signs due to vandalism, but that hikers who’ve completed those trails can bring in their passports and use a rubbing sign provided at the Nature Center to get credit for the hike.

She also encouraged everyone – not just the hikers participating in the program – to go online and download the free Los Alamos Trails app.

“The app is a great tool if you’re new to town and new to learning the trails because you can see right on your phone screen just where you are,” she said. “We’ve had people tell us they were completely lost and never would have made their way out if it weren’t for the app.”

The app is thorough and a valuable tool for those who wish to “go take a hike” and get a prize in return.