Brent Bonwell of Santa Fe, a founding member of the Santa Fe Fat Tire Society, poses for a portrait Monday on a trail at the Galisteo Basin Preserve. Those close to the prolific volunteer say his presence on the trails will never diminish, owing to a legacy of hard work, advocacy and kindness. Bonwell is one of The New Mexican’s 10 Who Made a Difference for 2021.

Santa Fe mountain bicyclist Brent Bonwell doesn’t just take the roads less traveled; he creates them.

Bonwell can frequently be seen toiling on Santa Fe-area trails or simply enjoying their bucolic charm. Those close to the prolific volunteer say his presence on the trails will never diminish, owing to a legacy of hard work, advocacy and kindness.

Bonwell, who has been involved with the Commonweal Conservancy in designing and building about 25 miles of trails in the Galisteo Basin Preserve, is one of The New Mexican’s 10 Who Made a Difference for 2021. He wasn’t eager to credit himself.

“I get a lot of pleasure using the trails I help maintain and build,” Bonwell said. “It’s not a completely altruistic thing.”

Associates and friends had plenty of praise, though, singling out Bonwell’s tireless energy and sense of adventure. Bonwell said he can trace those traits to his childhood in the Wichita, Kan., area, where the Little Arkansas River’s banks beckoned for exploration from his backyard.

Back then, nature’s only competition for entertainment was three channels on a black-and-white TV, Bonwell said.

“Otherwise, there wasn’t much for a kid,” he said. “No phones, no social media. We played outside; that’s what we did.”

At 61, he still does, but mountain bicycling didn’t enter the picture until a few years after he moved to Santa Fe in 1984. He made the transition from road cycling and prefers his newer passion for several reasons, including safety and getting a bike-level view of the region’s angular landscape from fresh angles.

“The vast majority of hikers don’t get more than two to three miles from the trailhead. Bikers get farther out,” Bonwell said, adding, “The perspective for things changes as you move 10 to 20 miles across the landscape. What you can see now, you couldn’t see before, and their relationship to each other.”

Despite the public elements of his efforts, Bonwell describes himself as a private person. Nominator Gretchen Grogan, who has worked extensively with Bonwell in her role as project manager with the Commonweal Conservancy, said his humility and social gravity stand out.

“This year we built over six miles of trails at the Galisteo preserve,” she said. “It was really his efforts to bring out the volunteers who came out every Tuesday night. We always had 10, 12 volunteers on a weeknight to work on trails. It’s hard, physical work. For people to do that after work, when they’re tired … it was kind of remarkable.”

Grogan credits Bonwell for attracting participants “because they like him so much.”

“He knows what he wants to get accomplished, and he makes that clear to people,” she added. “But he has a good sense of humor and makes it fun for people.”

As for his legacy, “A lot of us don’t fully appreciate why communities were built where they were built,” she said. “What was special about this particular place in Northern New Mexico? Sometimes the only way to get a sense of that is to get out of the city, to see the natural environment. And realize, my God, this is an incredibly beautiful place.”

Core Crew founder Jan Baer said Bonwell has been a member of the group since 2010, and he’s known for not saying no.

“I think our society has certainly become one of watching TV, playing games on computers and stuff. … This is a person who’s all about the outdoors,” he said.

Baer praised Bonwell as not just a trusted associate but a friend.

Henry Lanman echoed that sentiment. The fellow mountain bicyclist and volunteer said he has known Bonwell, a neighbor, at least 15 years.

“Right from the very beginning, he’s always been really friendly and giving,” said Lanman, who nominated Bonwell this year.

He recalled the men taking meals to each other’s houses amid heavy, isolating snowfall in the mid-2000s.

More recently, Bonwell has prepared meals for Lanman’s wife, Tina, whose mobility was limited following a serious injury. The Lanmans were on last year’s 10 Who Made a Difference list.

Bonwell’s volunteer résumé includes his role with Core Crew; serving as a volunteer crew leader and sawyer since 2012 for Santa Fe National Forest; teaching a crew leader certification course for Santa Fe Fat Tire Society members; being a founding member of the Fat Tire Society and serving on its board for many years and as its president for two; representing the society on the Greater Santa Fe Fireshed Coalition and Greater Santa Fe Recreational Partnership; serving as a USA Cycling official for six years; and being a county Open Lands, Trails and Parks Advisory Committee member from 2010-13.

Bonwell works for Santa Fe-based CyberWolf as a support consultant for software it publishes.

He married his wife, Sally, in 1990. They have two children, ages 28 and 23.

He acknowledged he thinks about his legacy.

“That sense of ownership … is a very cool thing,” he said of being on trails that he helped create or design.

Bonwell added that delegating doesn’t come easily.

“I have a really hard time asking for help,” he said. “I just … why would I want someone else to do something I don’t want to do myself?

“So I go out and do it.”

(2) comments

Robert Mang

Brent, thank you for all you do. This is a very well deserved recognition. Plus, I personally will never forget how you and the others saved me on that December ride in 2013. As only a hiker now, I still thank you for your work on the trails...I've often commented, "I bet Brent has been here".

Eddie Markman

Santa Fe has some of the best mountain biking in the West and so much of the trail work has been done by Brent and other members of the SF Fat Tire Society. A well deserved honor. Thank you for all that you do Brent!

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