Trails: Big things coming to south side

People ride on the trail system in Santa Fe. Tim Rogers/ Santa Fe Conservation Trust

Santa Fe’s nationally-recognized trail system is the product of decades of careful collaboration between public and private partners.

First, concerned residents, including the founders of the Santa Fe Conservation Trust, worked with the city, county, and national forest to preserve access through open spaces threatened by urban development in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. This effort produced the wonderful dirt trail systems that are loved by hikers, dog walkers and mountain bikers: Dale Ball Trails, La Tierra Trails and the Atalaya Trail.

Meanwhile, the city and county learned to anticipate the need for other kinds of trails within developed parts of our community, requiring them to be included in subdivisions, just like roads and utilities, and working to preserve and improve the key corridors that now serve our major, paved urban trails — the Rail Trail, the River Trail, the Acequia Trail and the Arroyo de las Chamisas Trail.

On the south side are many miles of Arroyo de las Chamisas Trail and River Trail, and a new south-side Acequia Trail is right around the corner. After phase A priorities in our Metropolitan Bicycle Master Plan of 2012 are implemented in the next one to two years, the south side will be able to use two long stretches of urban paved trail originating near Airport Road:

• The city’s Arroyo de las Chamisas Trail in Tierra Contenta will be extended east to South Meadows Road to complete a roughly 3 mile trail connection southwest to SWAN Park.

• Combined city and county efforts will connect paved trails four miles from South Meadows Road to the Municipal Recreation Center via existing River Trail and an underpass of NM599.

The city and county have already laid the groundwork with private and public partners to extend these major trails further outward. The El Camino Real Retracement Trail, for example, will extend from the MRC trail as a natural-surface route through piñon-juniper country to the Santa Fe National Forest’s Caja del Rio unit, and onward toward the Rio Grande.

Natural-surface trails do not require major capital investments. Made of dirt, they can be built and maintained by our vibrant volunteer community. Building on this advantage, the community-based trail planning initiative known as the Grand Unified Trail System, or GUTS, aims to help develop a more comprehensive and interconnected system of dirt trails around the greater Santa Fe area. An important objective of GUTS is to work with the city, county, and national forest to create links from the Caja del Rio area to trails planned south of Interstate 25, an effort that will clearly prioritize the development of soft-surface trails that are even closer to where south-side residents live, work, and play.

Elected officials serving the south side have made it clear that access to trails is high on their list of priorities to improve quality of life and public health in their district. It’s great to be able to report that this part of our community will be very well-served by paved trails as well as dirt trails.

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