About 15 tall Siberian elm trees were downed Tuesday to make way for a wide bridge that will connect the park at Fort Marcy Recreation Complex to Magers Field, where Zozobra is burned each year.
The Kiwanis Club, which puts on Zozobra, and the city have spent the last two years planning a replacement pathway from the park to Magers Field after a wooden bridge, one of three that crossed an arroyo and served as entry to the field, gave way during the Zozobra celebration in 2015.
They say the new 90-foot-wide concrete bridge, which will take about three months to complete, is the safest option for residents and has the smallest possible environmental footprint.
“We feel we have been extremely sensitive to taxpayers’ money, and we think it is an investment we needed to make and to keep Zozobra’s traditional home Fort Marcy,” said Ray Sandoval, organizer of the Zozobra event for Kiwanis.
The bridge will cost $750,000, with $80,000 donated by the Kiwanis Club and the rest coming from the city.
With the new gap in the tree canopy, the baseball field and the 50-foot-tall metal crucifix where Old Man Gloom will hang in September are now visible from Artist Road.
Some parkgoers Tuesday weren’t happy with the loss of shade.
“These parks are always so hot,” said Helen Johnstone, 30, a Santa Fe resident who was painting tin-can bird feeders Tuesday at a bench under a wooden portico with two other mothers and their children.
“That would be my main concern is getting rid of shade,” she said.
The women agreed there are few shaded parks to bring their children to in the summer — maybe three, including Fort Marcy.
Barb Massey, 67, also from Santa Fe, comes to Fort Marcy park to walk her dog, Tasha, almost every day.
“Everyone has just been freaked out about it, saying, ‘They can’t fix the potholes, but they can build a 90-foot bridge,’ ” she said. “We need all the trees we can get here. It helps so much walking dogs in the shade.”
Sandoval said the group and the city had worked extensively to design the best plan for the new pathway.
Around 7 p.m. during the 2015 Zozobra burning, a firefighter noticed the wooden bridge begin to flatten. Roughly 45 people were on the structure when it was evacuated. While no one was hurt, Sandoval said it created an urgent need to find a better entryway to future Zozobra burnings at Magers Field.
A City Council meeting was held in 2016, followed by an early neighborhood notification meeting in January to make the public aware of early plans for the bridge.
“This is a huge, huge improvement,” Sandoval said.
Last year, organizers closed down Old Taos Highway for the Zozobra burning, and the crowd was ushered in and out of Magers Field on four bridges that serve as pathways from the highway to the field. Sandoval said the bridges are similar to the failed bridge that connected the field to the park.
“One of the reasons we moved and pushed to get this [new bridge] done,” Sandoval said, is “had there been an emergency situation last year, that would have been the worst-case scenario.”
He said the 90-foot-wide design was deemed significantly safer, whereas a narrower bridge would have left thousands of people on the field for longer in an emergency. The two other bridges across the arroyo remain but will be monitored during Zozobra to prevent high foot traffic.
People often watch Zozobra from a bridge, making the need to create a sturdy structure more important, Sandoval said.
The new bridge won the approval of the Santa Fe Green Chamber of Commerce, and the Kiwanis Club worked with the Santa Fe Watershed Association and the Santa Fe Tree Board.
Glenn Schiffbauer, executive director of the Santa Fe Green Chamber of Commerce, said in a letter that the group commended the city for removing the Siberian elms, which aren’t native to the area, and “instituting a thoughtful plan for re-vegetation and replacement through the generosity of the Kiwanis.”
Sandoval said the landscaping plan is still under development and input from city residents will be considered.
On Tuesday, June 6, the club will hold a public meeting, the first of two before Zozobra.
Contact Rebecca Moss at 505-986-3011 or firstname.lastname@example.org.