Bigfoot apparently roams the piñon- and juniper-covered hills just a few miles from the Santa Fe Plaza. Ten-year-old Diego Rael said he has seen the hairy, human-like creature’s bed along one of the Dale Ball Trails off Hyde Park Road.
Diego was at such a trail Saturday morning, the Sierra del Norte, with his parents, his brother Elias, 12, and a friend. They were among a handful of children in Santa Fe who ditched their iPads and computer screens, slapped on sunscreen and showed up for the city’s first Take a Kid Hiking Day.
Their dad, Javier Rael, who works for the Santa Fe Fire Department, said hiking “gets them off the couch.”
Elias said he enjoys the activity, especially “eating in different places and looking around at the scenery.”
“I like the breezes, listening to the birds, eating lunch and looking for Bigfoot,” Diego said.
Elaine Pinkerton Coleman, author of Santa Fe On Foot, and her publisher, Richard Polese of Ocean Tree Books, proposed the idea of Take a Kid Hiking Day to the City Council, and the governing body approved a resolution last week encouraging adults to help introduce children to the forested lands surrounding Santa Fe. Tim Rogers, trails program manager for the Santa Fe Conservation Trust, signed on to help coordinate the special day’s featured group hike.
Isela Burciaga, Elias and Diego’s mom, said the family focuses on keeping the kids active and eating healthy foods. That’s the message the event’s coordinators, all avid hikers, were hoping to send to local families. They emphasized that hiking the public trails can be an antidote to obesity, here and around the country.
Obesity rates among children have been declining in recent years, but according to the state Department of Health and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 1 in 4 kindergartners in New Mexico were overweight or obese in 2015, compared to 17 percent nationwide. One in 3 third-graders were overweight or obese in 2015.
Getting outside, Pinkerton Coleman said, also is a way to “recalibrate the emotions.”
The health benefits are obvious, Rogers said, but the kids also are exposed to nature and learn to appreciate the value of conservation and “how these lands and trails were saved from development to provide these opportunities.”
“We want them to know these are public trails that belong to everyone and they are free to use them,” he said. “We want them to be in the habit of going hiking and using city open space and trails. … Deep inside, kids love doing that stuff. A lot of them aren’t encouraged to do it. This gives them a chance.”
Although attendance at Take a Kid Hiking Day was light Saturday, the coordinators are hoping to stage the event every year on the Saturday before Father’s Day.
Some of the family groups who participated in the event hiked a short loop route Saturday. Others chose a longer excursion to an overlook with an interpretive sign, a total of 2.75 miles. Families could go on their own or with a leader from the trust.
Pinkerton Coleman, who hikes regularly with the city’s Over the Arroyo Gang, first published Santa Fe On Foot in 1986. The latest edition, which came out last year, has 14 suggested hikes, including some new ones at sites such as the Santa Fe Botanical Garden, Milner Plaza, Frenchy’s Field Park and Sun Mountain.
Rogers regularly takes children from Santa Fe Public Schools into the woods on field trips. In May, for example, he led 14 hikes on the Dale Ball Trails and The Nature Conservancy’s Santa Fe Canyon Preserve for more than 300 fourth- and fifth-graders from Camino Real Academy and Nina Otero Community School.
Since the program began in 2014, some 3,000 kids have hit the trails. Some have summited Atalaya Mountain and hiked the La Tierra Trails, and others have participated in trail workdays.
Some kids on Saturday’s hike said they might ordinarily be watching cartoons on TV on a Saturday morning, but Janelly Ochoa, 11, is no couch potato. She said she would have been riding her bike or playing outside. Instead, she brought her mother and other family members, including 15-month-old nephew Devin, to the Dale Ball Trails. Grinning widely, she said, “I really like seeing how the plants grow and the views.”
Alicia Ayala, a third-grade teacher at El Camino Real Academy, brought along her son, Edward Scott, 9. She said she was interested in finding out about trails in Santa Fe that are appropriate for children.
“I can take this back to my kids. We’re really pushing for healthy habits and good information to pass on to parents,” she said.